China denies reports it is rapidly growing nuclear arsenal

China denies reports it is rapidly growing nuclear arsenal
Fu Cong, the director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s arms control department (AP)

A senior Chinese official has denied that his government is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal – though he said it is taking steps to modernise its nuclear forces.

Fu Cong, the director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s arms control department, said that his country is working to ensure its nuclear deterrent meets the minimum level necessary for national defence.

“On the assertions made by US officials that China is expanding dramatically its nuclear capabilities, first, let me say that this is untrue,” he said at a briefing in Beijing.

Mr Fu spoke at a briefing in Beijing (AP)

The news conference was held a day after China, the US, Russia, UK and France issued a joint statement on preventing nuclear war or an arms race.

The US defence department said in a report in November that China is expanding its nuclear force faster than previously predicted and could have more than 1,000 warheads by 2030.

The US has 3,750 nuclear weapons.

America has also raised concern about analyst reports based on satellite imagery that China is building missile silos in its north-western desert, as well as its test of a hypersonic missile last summer.

Mr Fu would not confirm the missile silos but said the size of China’s nuclear force should not be estimated based on the satellite photos.

He said China does need to take steps to make sure its nuclear force is sufficient in light of a changing security environment in Asia.

The official cited US talk of deploying intermediate-range non-nuclear missiles in the region. India also has nuclear weapons, as does its neighbour Pakistan.

Mr Fu called on the US and Russia to reduce their nuclear weapons proliferation (AP)

Mr Fu maintained the Chinese position that it would not join nuclear arms reduction talks between the US and Russia, which the American side is pushing for. He called on both to reduce their arsenals, by far the largest in the world.

“We will be happy to join if they have reduced to our level,” he said, adding that “the two superpowers need to … drastically reduce their nuclear capabilities to a level comparable to the level of China, and for that matter to the level of France and the UK, so that other nuclear states can join in this process.”

US president Joe Biden’s administration is carrying out a review of America’s nuclear posture, but major change seems unlikely given the reports of China’s growing nuclear force and tensions with China over Taiwan and with Russia over Ukraine.

Mr Fu also called on the US to lift sanctions on Iran, and for Iran to return to its nuclear commitments on that basis.

Iran is in talks with the US, China, Russia, UK, France and Germany on restoring a 2015 agreement that granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018.

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