China 'considers tripling nuclear warheads'

China 'considers tripling nuclear warheads'

Strategists seeking to beef up deterrence against US as tensions grow over Taiwan

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on armoured vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft artillery take part in a parade at Tiananmen Square in September 2015. (Reuters File Photo)
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on armoured vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft artillery take part in a parade at Tiananmen Square in September 2015. (Reuters File Photo)

BEIJING: China is considering tripling its stockpile of nuclear warheads to 900 by 2035, as tensions with the United States are expected to escalate further over Taiwan, sources close to the matter said on Saturday.

The blueprint, mapped out by the People’s Liberation Army, has already been approved by President Xi Jinping, who has been eager to bolster Beijing’s deterrence against Washington, the Chinese sources said.

With the ruling Communist Party strengthening the country’s military capabilities, the United States said last year that China was on course to increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads to 1,500 by 2035 when it aims to complete the modernisation of its military.

Some foreign affairs experts warn that if China achieves the goal of modernising its military, the country could abandon its “no first use” policy.

In November, the top body of the Chinese military reaffirmed the importance of lethal capabilities, analysing that Russia’s strong nuclear deterrence had prevented a head-on contest between NATO and Moscow despite its aggression against Ukraine, the sources said.

The number of nuclear warheads held by China is expected to rise to 550 in 2027, the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the armed forces, and to 900 in 2035, the sources added.

Worldwide, Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, while the United States possesses 5,428, according to estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Strains between China and the United States have been intensifying, especially after former US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the then third-highest-ranking official in the country, visited Taiwan in early August last year.

Fears have been growing that self-ruled, democratic Taiwan may become a military flashpoint in the region in the near future, as Beijing regards the island as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 as the result of a civil war.

Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but the United States maintains substantive though unofficial exchanges with Taiwan and supplies it with billions of dollars’ worth of arms and spare parts for its defence.

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