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Pompeo says China is hiding ‘world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal’

Vehicles carry DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles during a Chinese military parade. (Voice of America/Released)
January 05, 2021

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to stop hiding what he called “the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal.”

In an op-ed written for Newsweek called “China’s Nuclear Madness,” shared by the U.S. State Department, Pompeo said China is refusing to disclose how many nuclear weapons it has and how many it plans to develop.

Pompeo explained that during the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union both understood their national security was based on understanding each other’s nuclear capabilities and, “We established a framework to handle potentially deadly misunderstandings.”

“Today, China allows no such transparency for the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal,” Pompeo wrote. “Beijing refuses to disclose how many nuclear weapons it has, how many it plans to develop, or what it plans to do with them.”

Pompeo said China is the least transparent of the five nuclear nations that comprise the permanent members of the United Nations security council, the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China.

Pompeo also repeated warnings that China’s nuclear arsenal is expected to at least double in the next decade. That assessment is in line with a September Pentagon report on China’s military.

The Pentagon currently estimates China has around 200 nuclear warheads, though it does not know the exact number.

“Despite Beijing’s secrecy about its nuclear activities, we know China is pursuing a nuclear triad on land, in the air and at sea, and that it is rapidly growing and modernizing its capabilities,” Pompeo wrote. “General Secretary Xi Jinping champions this buildup. Soon after taking office in 2012, he described China’s nuclear-weapons command as ‘support for China’s status as a great power.’ He subsequently elevated that command to a standalone service called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force as a part of his plan to build a ‘world-class’ military by 2049.”

Pompeo said China’s nuclear arsenal includes a missile, the Dongfeng-41, which can reach America’s shores in 30 minutes. He said China put many of its nuclear weapons on display in last year’s military parade, though the nearly three-mile-long parade of weapons was “certainly only a fraction of the total arsenal.”

Pompeo said China achieved its build up of nuclear weapons while the U.S. was constrained by “ineffective” arms control agreements.

“While we were constrained by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty’s limits on ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, the PLA has fielded more than a thousand theater-range ballistic missiles near its coast,” Pompeo wrote. “Many of these weapons are dual-capable, meaning they can be armed with nuclear as well as conventional warheads. They are intended to target U.S. forces in East Asia and to intimidate and coerce America’s allies.”

“China’s ballistic missiles aren’t simply collecting dust,” Pompeo added, noting China launched test fired more ballistic missiles in 2018 and 2019 than the rest of the world combined.

In 2020, China test-fired some 220 ballistic missiles, exceeding its total number of launches in either 2018 and 2019.

Adding to the threat of China’s nuclear arsenal, Pompeo said China is moving its arsenal to a “launch-on-warning” posture, meaning China could begin launching nuclear weapons as soon as its satellites or other warning sensors detect incoming enemy missiles.

Pompeo said the U.S. regularly releases a Nuclear Posture Review, and the U.S. and Russia engage in biannual nuclear data exchanges. He also said France and the U.K. regularly publish the numbers and types of nuclear weapons in their arsenals.

“China refuses to adopt these processes, instead clinging to secrecy as its preferred strategy,” Pompeo wrote.

In his op-ed, Pompeo called on China to adopt transparency measures and to join the U.S. and Russia in creating a new arms control agreement to cover all types of nuclear weapons.

Pompeo also called on U.S.-allied countries to help pressure China to negotiate on nuclear issues.

“Many of our allies and partners—more than half of our NATO allies among them—have urged Beijing to come to the negotiating table. But too many countries, including champions of arms control who depend on America’s nuclear deterrence capabilities, remain publicly silent about Beijing’s buildup,” Pompeo wrote.