China has a relatively small nuclear arsenal. It possesses 200 to 400 nuclear warheads. Around 70 of them are deployed on intermediate-range missiles. About 40 of the 100 H-6 medium-range bombers are thought to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

China — nuclear bombs have a combined power of 16,000 times the Hiroshima bomb. China has nuclear materials to build many more bombs if it wants to. China — nuclear weapons are regarded as a minimal deterrent. China is at a low level of readiness, with most warheads separated from their delivery systems.

The United States has 18 times more nuclear warheads than Chinese (7,295 compared to 400). The entire Chinese nuclear arsenal packs about as much firepower as the nuclear weapons on one American trident submarine. The United States has 982 missile with multiple nuclear warheads that can reach China. China has 32 missiles that can reach the United States.

In 1995, China had 284 deployed nuclear warheads (110 on land-based missiles, 24 on sub-based missiles and 150 on bombers). The U.S. had 8,500 deployed nuclear warheads (2,090 on land-based missiles, 2,880 on sub-based missiles and 3,528 on bombers).


China is thought to have 145 ready-to-use strategic nuclear weapons and a stockpile of 200 more nuclear weapons with 273 megatons. The Telegraph reported: “China, unlike the other four original nuclear-weapons states, has been rapidly expanding its much-smaller nuclear arsenal — by over 25 per cent in the last five years, Pentagon estimates claim. Experts estimate that China deploys some 130 land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, each capable of delivering a single warhead. Missiles like the medium-range Dong Feng-3A and DF-4 are in the processes of being replaced the more modern DF 21. The new DF-41 missile that China is developing is expected to be capable of carrying multiple independently-targeted warheads, which are also hard to intercept. China is simultaneously expanding its fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which can lurk underwater for extended periods of time and are almost undetectable. [Source: Praveen Swami,The Telegraph, December 2010]

History of Chinese Nuclear Bomb

On October 16, 1964, four years after Soviet Bomb experts left China and shredded important documents, China exploded its first atomic bomb — a uranium-enriched device weighing 3,410-pounds. The Chinese had originally counted on the Soviets to help them build a nuclear devise but that Soviet help ended in June 1959 because of rift between Mao and Khrushchev. Within months the Soviet advisors were gone, shedding or taking with them important bluepirnts and plans.

Mao pressed ahead with the nuclear bomb project even though much of China was starving as a result of the Great Leap Forward. According to some historians, Chinese scientist discovered vital information by piecing some of the shredded documents back together again.

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Large nuclear facilities in China

China's nuclear weapons were designed tested at a place Factory 221 in near Xihai and Koko Nor, China — largest saltwater lake, in Qinghai Province (See Below). The nuclear weapons were tested at Lop Nor testing site in Xinjiang, 600 miles northwest of Fatcory 221. Near Lop Nur there have been reports livestock and people suffering from radiation sickness. Many trees in the region has lost their leaves and bark. Residents complain of losing their hair and suffering from skin diseases. There have increases in rates leukemia, throat cancer, premature births and deformed babies. Malan, a secret nuclear base, is only 10 kilometers from villages with ethnic Uighurs and Mongols. Only in 2007, did “participants” in nuclear tests begun getting government benefits.

The explosion was viewed as a great achievements for a nation of peasants. When word of the successful detonation was announced on the radio by Zhou Enlai, the thousands of scientists who helped design it ran out on the steppe of the Tibetan-Qinhai plateau, shouting and shedding tears of joy.

In May 1967 China exploded its first hydrogen bomb. Only 32 months and six test blast elapsed between the time that China exploded its first atom bomb and the time it detonated its first hydrogen bomb. In contrast Britain took 66 months, the Soviet Union took 77 months, the United States took 75 months and 31 tests and France took and 103 months to achieve the same thing.

China has conducted far fewer than nuclear tests that the United States and Russia. As of 1995, the U.S. had conducted 1,030 nuclear tests, Russia 715, France 209, Britain 45, China 43, and India 1. At that time China was the only country in the world still testing nuclear weapons. Beijing said it supported a ban but wanted to be allowed to continue "peaceful" nuclear explosions. In October 1994, China detonated a hydrogen bomb 1,800 meters below the surface at its underground test range on Lop Nor.

In 1999, China disclosed it had the ability to produce a neutron bomb. A neutron bomb is a kind of miniaturized H-bomb that is noteworthy in that it kills lots people but doesn’t do as much damage to buildings.

DF-3a missile

Atomic City: Where Chinese Developed Its First Nuclear Weapons

Atomic City (101 kilometers from Xining) is where China designed its first nuclear weapons in a facility Code-named No. 221 Plant of the China Nuclear Industry Corporation. Located not far from Qinghai Lake on a 3,200-meter-high grassland called Jinyintan, Plant 221 had 18 workshops, labs and buildings scattered across 220 square miles, employing 30,000 scientists, workers and guards at its peak. Jinyintan itself is a beautiful place celebrated in a 1953 song and film. In the summer, grasslands are exuberant green, and Tibetan and Mongolian herders graze yaks and goats as they have for centuries.

Chris Buckley and Adam Wu wrote in in the New York Times: “Among the yak herds and Tibetan Buddhism prayer flags dotting the windswept highlands of northwestern China stand the ruins of a remote, hidden city that vanished from the maps in 1958. The decaying clusters of workshops, bunkers and dormitories are remnants of Plant 221, also known as China’s Los Alamos. Here, on a mountain-high grassland called Jinyintan in Qinghai Province, thousands of Tibetan and Mongolian herders were expelled to create a secret town where a nuclear arsenal was built to defend Mao Zedong’s revolution. [Source: Chris Buckley and Adam Wu, New York Times, January 20, 2018]

““It was totally secret, you needed an entry pass,” said Pengcuo Zhuoma, 56, a ruddy-faced ethnic Mongolian herder living next to an abandoned nuclear workshop, whose family once supplied meat and milk to the scientists. “Your mouth was clamped shut so you couldn’t talk about it.” That changed in the 1990s, when “Atomic City,” as it is now billed, became a patriotic showpiece, celebrating the scientists and laborers who worked in the harsh, breathtaking conditions on a plateau 11,000 feet above sea level. They built China’s first atomic bomb, detonated in 1964, then its first hydrogen bomb, tested in 1967, and they helped develop missiles to carry the warheads.”

Soviet advisers helped Chinese scientists develop nuclear weapons until the two Communist powers’ bitter split in 1959. During the 25 years it was open, according to Xinhua, China launched 16 nuclear tests here and developed a number of types of strategic nuclear weapons. Xinhua said: “All of China's nuclear tests were carried out with strict safety protection, causing no radioactive harm to anyone. In 1996, China announced a temporary suspension of nuclear testing in a move toward nuclear disarmament.” Between 1996 and 2001, “the nuclear test center has received 300,000 tourists. The local government is discussing ways to repair the ruined factories and build power, chemical and aluminum plants to develop the local economy.” Web Site: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Chinese Nuclear Strategy

China has a no-first-use nuclear doctrine. Since the Mao era, China has insisted that its nuclear weapons are solely retaliatory weapons only to be used if China is the victim of a nuclear attack.

In the 1960s, the Chinese government engaged in a huge civil defense building campaign in anticipation of a Soviet invasion. It built tunnels and underground shelters that had water, power and ventilation systems to sustain people for up to 15 days in the event if a bomb blast, gas attacks or nuclear radiation. Today, the underground shelters are popular smooching havens and tunnels have been converted into warehouses, factories, shopping malls, skating rinks and tourist attractions. There are even 100 underground hotels with 10,000 beds.

During the 1960s, U.S. policy makers were more worried about China using a nuclear bomb than the Soviet Union. Mao himself reportedly believed that imperialism would be destroyed by nuclear holocaust and out of the ashes would be created a new society "thousands of times higher than the capitalist system" with "a truly beautiful future for themselves."

China has a triad system in the early stage of its development that consist of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ICBMs and weapons carried by aircrafts. The point of China — nuclear weapons is not to attack the United States but rather to disrupt the United States — plan to come to Taiwan — defense on the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Taiwanese analyst Lin Chong-pin told the Washington Post: “The main purpose if to throw a monkey wrench into the decision-making process in Washington, to make the Americans think, and think again, about intervening in Taiwan, and by then Chinese have moved in.”

In June 2005, a Chinese general told foreign reporters that China might use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces in a conflict over Taiwan. In an official briefing with foreign reporters, Major General Zhu Chengdu said, “If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on the target zone on China — territory, I think we will respond with nuclear weapons.” Washington condemned the remark as “highly irresponsible” and asked Beijing for assurances that the remark did not reflect an official position. In response a Chinese government spokesman said that China would not use nuclear weapons “at any time and under any conditions.”

In June 2007, a senior Chinese defense strategist said the China needed to build up its offensive strength and develop an “effective nuclear force” but it had intention of breaking its no-first-use nuclear doctrine.

China has raised objection to the planned U.S. anti-missile shield on the ground it would limit China's first strike nuclear threat and make China vulnerable to threats and bullying from the United States.

Chinese Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan and the Environment

China has been criticized for not doing more to curb the spread of missile technology to states like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. The first use of the China and United States hotline was made in June 1998 after Pakistan detonated its first nuclear bomb.

Pakistan is believed have to received much of the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons from China. China supplied Pakistan with designs for a 25-kiloton bomb, a supply of weapons-grade uranium, tritium, heavy water, and key components for nuclear weapons production such as powerful ring magnets and a powerful industrial furnace used to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium The Khushab React, which produces plutonium, and the Chasma Plutonium reprocessing facility, which extracts plutonium from spent fuel, were built with Chinese assistance.

In 1984, Pakistan began producing enriched uranium at its nuclear facility at Kahuta. In the 1980s, Pakistan completed a computerized "cold test" of nuclear bombmaking technology but Pakistan needed help from China to make glitch-free test bomb.

In the early 1980s, Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan Khan obtained blueprints for a nuclear weapon that China had detonated on its forth nuclear test in 1966. The device was especially useful because it was relatively small and could easily be placed on the top of a missile. It is believed that Khan traded its centrifuge technology to the Chinese for their bomb designs. See China, India and Pakistan Relations Under International.

China is modernizing its nuclear weapons but has tightened the export of nuclear technology after Pakistan used one of its designs to build a nuclear weapon. Beijing also reportedly sold Pakistan $70,000 worth of ring magnets used to enrich uranium. See Pakistan.

Greenpeace sent a ship up the Yangtze River to protest nuclear weapons tests. China has showed some interest in earning foreign revenue by allowing plutonium and other nuclear waste from foreign reactors to be dumped in the Gobi Desert and western China.

Chinese cruise missile

Chinese Missiles

China now deploys mobile, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles. China possesses 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 12 submarine ballistic missiles, about 80 nuclear-armed medium-range nuclear missiles, and 100 intermediate range ballistic and 300 short range nuclear missiles.

New missiles include upgraded nuclear-tipped DF-31 intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the United States and short range DF-11 and DF-15 and sea-skimming YJ-83 anti-ship missiles and DH-10 longer-range cruise missiles intended to strike targets in Taiwan or deter American ships from coming to Taiwan — rescue.

China is developing the DH-10 cruise missile which has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers and is capable of reaching Japan undetected. Dongfeng 21D antiship ballistic missiles have been deployed. They reportedly are capable of sinking an aircraft carrier.

China's most advanced missile, the Dongfeng ("East Wind") 31, or DF-31, is a solid-fuel ICBM with a range of 8,000 km and is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. A three-stage solid fuel missile, it replaced the more primitive Dongfeng-5 liquid fuel missile. An advanced DF-31 deployed in 2007 has a range of almost 7,000 miles and can hit almost any target in the United States. China is currently developing the Dongfeng-41, which has a range of over 11,500 kilometers, allowing it to hit both New York and Los Angeles.

China is thought be replacing its 20 land-based ICBMs with more modern versions. It s thought China will have 60 ICBMs by 2010. Rockets that have sent astronauts into space can easily be modified to become nuclear ICBMs. China is reportedly interested in gaining access to technology used in building Russia's huge 10-warhead SS-18.

JL-2 missiles are nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that have a range of 7,000 kilometers. Launched from submarines It designs is based on the design of the DF-31.

Chinese Short- and Medium-Range Missiles

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SAM mobile launcher

China can produce about 100 short range ballistic missiles — designed strike Taiwan and destroy its infrastructure before the United States can respond — a year. These DF-118 (CSS-7) and DF-15S (CSS-6) are getting more accurate. China is developing a DF-21 (CSS-5) medium range ballistic missile They have higher velocities than other missiles and would be hard for Taiwan to defend against.

The 33-foot-long M-9 medium range missile is similar to the Soviet-made Scuds fired by Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. It has a range of 435 miles and can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead of 1,100 pounds.

China is developing a short-range ballistic missile and a powerful anti-ship cruise missiles capable of getting through American electronic defense and penetrating a ship — heaviest armor. It still lacks Global Position System device to guide them. The Chinese have acquired Russian-built Suburn missiles which are capable of skimming 1½ meters above the surface of the ocean at a speed of Mach 2.5.

In January 2010, China successfully tested a mid-air, anti-missile missile. Similar to the American Patriot missile but less sophisticated, it is capable of shooting down an incoming missile in mid air. A brief government news releases on the test said it “achieved the expected result” but did not say what that meant or whether an air-bourne target missile had been hit ot destroyed. The test came around the time the U.S. government approved a deal to sell advanced Patriot missiles to Taiwan.

According to a Rand Corp. report issue in August 2009, a Chinese missile attack on Taiwan could “cut every runway at Taiwan — half-dozen main fighter bases and destroy essentially all of the aircraft parked on ramps, allowing China to dominate the skies of Taiwan.”

Chinese Missile, Satellite and Anti-Ship Capabilities

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post,”China's missile technology has always been the pointy edge of its spear, ever since Qian Xuesen, the gifted rocket scientist who was kicked out of the United States during the McCarthy period in the 1950s, returned to China. U.S. government scientists have been impressed by China's capabilities. On Jan. 11, 2007, a Chinese missile traveling at more than four miles a second hit a satellite that was basically a box with three-foot sides, one U.S. government weapons expert said. Over the past several years, China has put into orbit 11 of what are believed to be its first military-only satellites, called Yaogan, which could provide China with the ability to track targets for its rockets. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, Saturday, December 25, 2010]

China is also trying to fashion an anti-ship ballistic missile by taking a short-range rocket, the DF-21, and turning it into what could become an aircraft-carrier killing weapon. Even though it has yet to be deployed, the system has already sparked changes in the United States. In September 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said China's "investments in anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America's primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific - particularly our forward bases and carrier strike groups." The U.S. Navy in 2008 cut the DDG-1000 destroyer program from eight ships to three because the vessels lack a missile-defense capability.

But the challenge for China is that an anti-ship ballistic missile is extremely hard to make. The Russians worked on one for decades and failed. The United States never tried, preferring to rely on cruise missiles and attack submarines to do the job of threatening an opposing navy.

U.S. satellites would detect an ASBM as soon as it was launched, providing a carrier enough warning to move several miles before the missile could reach its target. To hit a moving carrier, a U.S. government weapons specialist said, China's targeting systems would have to be "better than world-class."

Wu Riqiang, who worked for six years at the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation as a missile designer, said that while he could not confirm that such a missile existed, he believed weapons such as these were essentially "political chips," the mere mention of which had already achieved the goal of making U.S. warships think twice about operating near China's shores. "It's an open question how these missiles will do in a conflict situation," said Wu, who is now studying in the United States. "But the threat - that's what's most important about them."

Chinese Space Weapons

The Pentagon has said it views the Chinese space program as a threat. Its capability to attack satellites and its ability to adapt space program technology for military use is a concern. According to a Pentagon report , “PLA writings emphasizes the necessity of destroying, damaging and interfering with enemy — reconnaissance, observation and communications satellites, suggesting...satellites could be among the initial targets of attack to “blind and deafen the enemy”....China further views the development of space and counter-space capabilities as bolstering national prestige.”

According 2003 Pentagon report, China is interested in developing space weapons, particularly a system for attacking U.S. satellites, possibly with “parasitic microsatellites”—small satellites that can attach themselves to larger ones and disrupt or destroy them. A report about such devises first surfaced in a January 2001 story published in the Hong Kong newspaper, the Xing Dao Daily and it in turn got the story from a web site of dubious credibility. In August 2003, China joined Russia in demanding that a treaty be established to ban weapons in space, with the United States insisting that such a treaty is not necessary.

In November 2009, China — top air commander Xu Qiliang said that space weapons were an “historical inevitability.” A Chinese launch not long before that came within 160 kilometers of the international space station.

China has devices that send out electromagnetic pulses that can damage communications and radar equipment.

Chinese Satellites with Military Capabilities

In July 2011, Reuters reported, "China is developing cutting-edge satellites that will allow it to project power far beyond its shores and deter the United States from using aircraft carriers in any future conflict over its rival Taiwan, a report in the Journal of Strategic Studies, a U.K.-published defence and security journal, said. [Source: By Ben Blanchard, Reuters, July 11, 2011]

But the report said that the rapid development of advanced reconnaissance satellites to enable China to track hostile forces in real time and guide ballistic missiles has become a key to the modernisation of its forces. While the United States used to be unrivaled in this area, China is catching up fast, it added.

"China's constellation of satellites is transitioning from the limited ability to collect general strategic information, into a new era in which it will be able to support tactical operations as they happen," the report said. "China may already be able to match the United States' ability to image a known, stationary target and will likely surpass it in the flurry of launches planned for the next two years." Beijing has consistently denied it has anything other than peaceful plans for space and says its growing military spending and prowess are for defensive purposes and modernisation of outdated forces.

"The most immediate and strategically disquieting application (of reconnaissance satellites) is a targeting and tracking capability in support of the anti-ship ballistic missile, which could hit U.S. carrier groups," the report said. "But China's growing capability in space is not designed to support any single weapon; instead it is being developed as a dynamic system, applicable to other long-range platforms. With space as the backbone, China will be able to expand the range of its ability to apply force while preserving its policy of not establishing foreign military bases."

More broadly speaking, satellites will be able to help China project power. "As China's capabilities grow, with space reconnaissance as an example, it will be increasingly hard to reconcile the rhetoric of a defensive posture and a more expansive capability."

Chinese Anti-Satellite Missile

In January 2007, China launched a missile that destroyed a satellite in space orbiting 850 kilometers above the Earth. It was the first demonstration of an anti-satellite missile by any country in more than 20 years. The missile was a medium-range, ground-launched, solid-fuel KTI missile, which is 13.6 meters long and weighs 19 tons and is based on a Dongfeng-21, an intercontinental missile with a range of 1,800 kilometers) launched from or near China — Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province.

The target was the Chinese Feng Yun IV polar orbiting weather satellite, which was launched in 1999 and was orbiting at an altitude of 850 kilometers at a speed of 24,000 kph. It was destroyed from the sheer impact of missile rather than an exploding warhead. Striking an a satellite targeting at 24,000 kph with a missile that reached speeds of 76,000 kph takes great accuracy.

The United States expressed concern that the test ran contrary to the international spirit of cooperation of space development. One senior U.S. defense official called it a display of an “obviously destabilizing capability.” Many thought the test was a demonstration to the United States of China — power and its ability to destroy U.S. spy satellites.

China did not follow international protocol by notifying airmen and air traffic controllers of the launch thereby putting civilian aircraft in danger. Beijing insists that it has no intention of entering a “space race” and the test was “not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country.”

Some have viewed the missile attack as a wake up call to the United States military, which is heavily reliant on satellites for everything from guiding smart bombs to pinpoint locations and navigate cruise missile over all kinds of terrain to locating downed pilots and making predator strikes on terrorists. In the event of a conflict between the United States and China if China could cripple the United States — satellite network it would strongly interfere with the United States — ability to launch a high-tech attack, conduct intelligence and even do routine navigation and communications.

Debris From Chinese Anti-Satellite Missile

The impact of the missile obliterated the satellite into a spreading debris cloud made up of, by one estimate, two million fragments one millimeter or more in size. One NASA official call the satellite strike the “worst contamination of low earth orbit during the past 50 years.” The U.S. Air Force has identified 2,229 pieces that are at least as large as a softball and listed the number of objects of concern at 11,800.

The debris is circling the earth in polar orbit scatted between 200 kilometers and 3,500 kilometers above the Earth. Fragments travel at speeds of 21,6000 kph and 28,880 kph and could cause serious damage if they hit something. There is a danger they might collide with 120 satellites orbiting in the area of the explosion, or even the international space station. The debrise could also disrupt images made by spy satellites and commercial imagery satellites at different elevations. NASA already has moved some satellites to avoid space debris. The fragments will orbit the earth for at least another 10 years. It will take century for all the pieces to fall out of orbit.

The United States military knew that China was making preparation for the test and didn’t reveal that the test took place until a week after it happened as it analyzed its significance. China has also conducted tests for its anti-satellite systems in July 2005 and February 2006.

Chinese Chemical and Biological Weapons

China claims it has never possesses biological weapons and it destroyed chemical weapons it had. China joined the 1972 Biological Weapons Conventions in 1984 and said in 2002 that had never developed, produced or stockpiled biological weapons. The United States doubts this, based in part on evidence that China is studying “aerosolization” techniques which can be used to make particles just small enough to be carried in the air and lodge in the lungs

China is believed to have a well-funded chemical and biological weapon program and is thought to have a secret cache of chemical and biological weapons.

China's Clandestine Acquisition of American Weapons Technology

See China and United States, International

See United States, Military and China

Image Sources: Defence Talk except nuclear map (Carnigie Foundation)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton — Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2011

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