In a recent Pentagon report on China’s military capabilities, it was revealed that Beijing is surpassing previous estimations regarding the rapid expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal. Additionally, the report suggests that China is likely drawing valuable insights from Russia’s actions in Ukraine, potentially shaping its approach to a conflict involving Taiwan.
The report, which was released on Thursday, also raises concerns about China’s development of a new intercontinental missile system with conventional arms, which, if deployed, could pose a threat to targets in the continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska.
This report comes just ahead of an anticipated meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.
While recent developments in the Middle East, particularly the conflict between Israel and Hamas, have shifted some of the United States’ focus away from its Pacific pivot strategy aimed at countering China’s growth, the Pentagon’s national defense strategy still revolves around China as the primary long-term security challenge for the United States.
The report builds on last year’s warning that China was significantly expanding its nuclear forces at a pace exceeding previous U.S. assessments. Last year’s report indicated that Beijing was on track to nearly quadruple its number of warheads to 1,500 by 2035, while the United States maintains around 3,750 active nuclear warheads. The 2023 report suggests that China is on course to have over 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 as part of its rapid modernization efforts, aligned with Xi’s goal of establishing a “world class” military by 2049.
It’s worth noting that China maintains a “no first use” policy regarding nuclear weapons, while the United States reserves the right to use them in “extreme circumstances.”
The report also highlights China’s growing military, diplomatic, and economic pressure on Taiwan and its regional neighbors, seen as efforts to counter what Beijing perceives as containment strategies by the United States. These pressures on Taiwan include missile overflights, increased warplane incursions into Taiwan’s international defense zone, and large-scale military exercises surrounding the island.
China has made it clear that it intends to reunify Taiwan with the mainland, even if it requires the use of force. The United States has provided significant military support to Taiwan to enhance its defenses.
China’s military spending continues to rise, with the 2023 budget reaching 1.58 trillion yuan (approximately $216 billion), an increase of 7.2%. However, some U.S. officials believe the actual figure could be higher. China maintains that its military policy is defensive in nature and aimed at safeguarding its national interests.
The report also notes China’s increased harassment of U.S. military aircraft in international airspace in the region, including over 180 instances of aggressive interception by Chinese aircraft.
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In summary, the Pentagon report underscores China’s rapid military expansion, particularly in its nuclear capabilities, and its evolving approach to regional and global security challenges, as well as the ongoing tensions and potential for conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region.