China reportedly building more than 100 new missile silos, warn US experts

China's nuclear expansion could further strain its relations with the United States in the midst of the "new Cold War"
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PHOTO/AFP  -   Chinese President Xi Jinping inspecting People's Liberation Army soldiers at a barracks in Hong Kong.

China has begun building more than 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a report in the US newspaper The Washington Post. These efforts to increase China's nuclear capability are reportedly taking place in the northwestern Yumen region.

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, has obtained satellite images showing the work taking place in a barren terrain of hundreds of square kilometres. "If silos under construction elsewhere in China are added to the tally, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction," explains Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center's Nonproliferation Program.

In "China's National Defence in the New Era", a document published by Beijing in 2019, nuclear policy is presented as essentially deterrent in nature, with the aim of ensuring "national strategic security" and "maintaining international strategic security". However, the US and other Western countries have been warning about China's nuclear build-up for years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China could have 320 nuclear warheads. As the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) states, "nuclear capabilities are one of the Chinese regime's best-kept secrets".

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​PHOTO/AFP - Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers gathered during military training in the Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang region.

A September 2020 Pentagon report warned that "China's nuclear forces will evolve significantly over the next decade". The text also claimed that China has "more than 1,250 ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres". In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised arms control to "reduce the dangers of China's modern and growing nuclear arsenal". Moreover, last April, Charles A. Richard, head of the US Strategic Command, told the Senate that "China is capable of executing any strategy in the use of nuclear weapons within its region and will soon be able to do so with intercontinental reach". He also warned of its "unprecedented expansion".

Recent data provided by the James Martin Center and reported by The Washington Post puts the international community's focus back on Beijing and its growing nuclear capability. The silos under construction would be designed for an intercontinental ballistic missile known as the DF-41. In addition, they could carry several warheads and would be capable of reaching US territory.

Policy with Beijing: common ground between Biden and Trump

Joe Biden's foreign policy towards some countries may change from that of his predecessor. With China, however, he is expected to follow Donald Trump's lead.

During the previous Republican administration, Washington imposed sanctions against 31 Chinese companies that "enable the development and modernisation" of China's military and "directly threaten" US security. These sanctions particularly affect technology companies such as Huawei and telecommunications companies such as China Mobile.

AFP/NICOLAS ASFOURI - Former US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The coronavirus was another major point of tension between Washington and Beijing. The former US president claimed from the beginning of the pandemic that the virus had been created in a laboratory, and continually referred to it as the "Chinese virus". Outside the White House, Trump has continued to charge China, demanding that they pay $10 billion to the US as "reparations" for the economic damage caused by COVID-19. "We demand reparations from the Communist Party of China. It must pay," he declared in his first public speech after leaving office.

Democratic President Biden's China policy is very similar to the one developed by Trump. The current administration has increased the list of Chinese companies sanctioned for "unusual and extraordinary threats". Beijing has condemned Biden's decision, accusing the US administration of harming "the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises, as well as the interests of global investors".

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PHOTO/ Li Yun/Xinhua vía AP - Chinese military doctors at Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport

Tensions between the two countries were also visible at the first meeting between US and Chinese officials since Biden took office. The trade war and human rights were the most contentious issues.

On the coronavirus, Biden appears to endorse his predecessor's view, as he has called for an investigation into the origin of the disease. "We've been saying for a long time that China needed to provide more laboratory access, to cooperate more fully with scientific researchers, and we don't think they've met that standard," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. For its part, the Chinese foreign ministry believes that Washington is only using the pandemic to "stigmatise and manipulate policy".

REUTERS/LINTAO ZHANG - Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013.

Recently, during Biden's European trip, the president called on his European partners to stand united against China. He also presented his 'Build Back Better World' plan, which aims to counter Beijing's geostrategic influence through the New Silk Road Initiative.

Russia, which was also on the agenda of Biden and his allies, has recently renewed its friendship treaty with China. Vladimir Putin met virtually on Monday with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to reinforce and extend the treaty of good neighbourliness and friendly cooperation that the two countries signed 20 years ago. The Russian president argued that this Russian-Chinese cooperation "plays a stabilising role at the international level". Jinping backed Putin's words, assuring that this treaty "is oriented towards peace and development".

PHOTO/ALEXEI DRUZHININ - Russian President Vladimir Putin toasts with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping before the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
China celebrates 100 years of the Communist Party

In the midst of this supposed nuclear development, the Asian giant is commemorating the centenary of the Communist Party. Also, immersed in this "new Cold War" between Washington and Beijing, Xi Jinping has sent several messages to foreign powers. Jinping has assured that if any country tries to intimidate or influence China "they will be hit on the head". "No one should underestimate the determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.