China Media Says Nukes Are Only for Self-Defense After Pentagon Report

Chinese state media has defended Beijing's plans to expand its nuclear arsenal, after the Pentagon released a report predicting China would double its number of warheads over the next decade.

The Pentagon's 2020 Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China was released Tuesday, estimating the number of Beijing's nuclear weapons in the low 200s. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Chad Sbragia told reporters: "We're certainly concerned about the numbers, but also just the trajectory of China's nuclear developments writ large."

Chinese state media dismissed such concerns. Global Times—a nationalistic newspaper owned by the People's Daily, the official publication of the Chinese Communist Party—published an op-ed Wednesday claiming the report was designed to "weaken China's nuclear deterrence."

China has never published its number of nuclear weapons, with most foreign experts having estimated the total at around 200 for decades. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Federation of American Scientists have both recently put the figure at around 320.

This week's Pentagon report is the first time that the U.S. military has publicly estimated the size of Beijing's nuclear arsenal.

Global Times said the report "intentionally affected people's understanding of the size of China's nuclear arsenals," and that the low 200s figure "is an intentional underestimation." By comparison, the U.S. has some 3,800 warheads. Russia has the most in the world at around 4,310.

"The Pentagon has two purposes," Global Times wrote. "One is to weaken China's nuclear deterrence, especially the role of China's nuclear capability in shaping American society's attitude toward China."

The newspaper suggested that America's bubbling confrontation with China is prompting "anxieties" in American society. The low estimation of Chinese nuclear capability is designed to show "that the U.S. has an overwhelming strategic advantage over China," Global Times claimed. "So no matter how the U.S. military provokes China, Americans don't have to worry."

The newspaper also said the U.S. wants to use the lowball figure "as the base to pressure China's nuclear disarmament with the U.S. and Russia, and squeeze China's ability to strengthen its nuclear power."

President Donald Trump's administration has pushed for Beijing to take part in nuclear arms control talks along with Russia. A major U.S.-Russian agreement—the New START treaty—is due to expire next year, but the U.S. has refused to renew the accord unless China also commits to it, a proposal Beijing has repeatedly dismissed.

Chinese officials have said they have no interest in talks, given the gulf between Beijing and Washington's nuclear capabilities. Global Times repeated this argument in Wednesday's op-ed.

"The U.S. is forcing China to take part in nuclear disarmament negotiations when there is still a large gap between China and the U.S., so that the U.S. can always maintain an overwhelming military advantage over China, and suppress China's will at critical junctures," it argued.

"China develops nuclear weapons solely for self-defense, so China will not pursue the same scale of nuclear arsenals as the U.S.," the op-ed continued. "But China's nuclear deterrence must be strong and effective. As the U.S. increases military pressure on China, China's nuclear power must upgrade to hedge against U.S. pressure."

China, ICBMs, Pentagon, report, nuclear, weapons, media
The Chinese military's DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles are pictured during a parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images/Getty