Trump administration points to new signs of Chinese nuclear weapon buildup

FPI / November 20, 2020


By Richard Fisher

In the early to mid-2010s as the People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery, called the PLA Rocket Force after 2015, was clearly developing new and more varied intercontinental range missiles, some analysts and arms control experts held that this was not evidence per se that China was expanding its nuclear missile forces.

Satellite imagery shows the growth in China’s nuclear weapon facility in Jiuquan. / Via Bill Gertz, The Washington Times

Why? They contended that China had halted the production of fissile materials needed to make the larger number of nuclear warheads required for more missiles.

Such an assessment would seem improbable due to China’s abject lack of transparency regarding its nuclear forces and its centuries-long practice of deception. There could always be undisclosed nuclear production facilities.

But in 2017 Hui Zhang, a Chinese-educated researcher with the Belfer Center of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, produced a lengthy report stating that in 1987 China had halted production of nuclear weapons grade Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and Plutonium.

However, the Trump administration has produced satellite imagery analysis that China has over the last decade expanded HEU production and Plutonium reprocessing facilities that could be used produce more fissile materials.

This could then support the production of new nuclear warheads that could arm China’s expanding array of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

China has announced this work publicly…”While this plutonium could be used to make a nuclear weapon, the United States and other nuclear states would not use plutonium produced in civilian reactors because it is undesirable in a number of ways.”

Full Text . . . Current Edition . . . . Subscription Information

Free Press International