China continues to accelerate its military buildup, including expanding its nuclear stockpile beyond previous projections, and is engaging in provocative actions that raise the stakes in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the latest U.S. Defense Department report on China’s military power.
China had more than 500 operational nuclear warheads in May, compared to 400 in 2022, and is expected to have 1,000 or more by 2030, the report said. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)
"Compared to the PLA's [People’s Liberation Army] nuclear modernization efforts a decade ago, current efforts dwarf previous attempts in both scale and complexity," the report said. Regardless, China’s arsenal is dwarfed by those of Russia, which has 4,500 warheads, and the United States, which has roughly 3,800 warheads.
At a press briefing on Oct. 20, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning dismissed the report as “nonfactual and biased” and said the United States calls China a threat to “sustain its military hegemony.” China has “always kept our nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required by national security, and we have no intention to get involved in any nuclear arms race with any country,” she said.
The report revealed that China probably completed construction in 2022 of three new silo fields, consisting of at least 300 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, and has loaded at least some missiles into these silos.
More broadly, the report asserts that the PLA has “adopted more coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.” In 2021-2023, the United States “documented over 180 instances of PLA coercive and risky air intercepts against U.S. aircraft in the region, more in the past two years than in the previous decade,” the report said. In the same period, the PLA conducted around 100 instances of coercive and risky operational behavior against U.S. allies and partners in an effort to deter the United States and others from conducting lawful operations in the region.
Despite the tensions, China “largely denied, canceled, and ignored recurring bilateral defense engagements, as well as [Pentagon] requests for military-to-military communication at multiple levels,” the report said.