Report: China Expands Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

Beijing moves ahead with nuclear weapons buildup, potentially outpacing the United States

Military vehicles carrying ballistic missiles in Beijing / Getty Images
June 14, 2021

China is expanding its nuclear arsenal as tensions with the United States escalate, according to a report.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank, reported Monday that Beijing’s nuclear warhead stockpile increased from 320 in 2020 to 350 in 2021. China’s missile buildup comes as its overall defense budget increases rapidly, while its relations with the United States struggle. The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, the Chinese military’s nuclear program, is considered among the most advanced and lethal components of Beijing’s military.

The 2022 Chinese defense budget marks a 7 percent hike in known spending—which does not include covert spending through civil-military fusion, a process where Chinese companies share technology and research tools with the Chinese military. The Biden administration, however, has planned for a "flat" Pentagon budget.

In June, China conducted tests of advanced "Guam killer" missiles, which have nuclear capabilities. U.S. Strategic Command chief Admiral Charles Richard in April warned that China and Russia are outpacing the United States in nuclear weapons construction. And Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) questioned senior military leaders in March who confirmed China could reach "nuclear overmatch" with the United States in the next decade. China has resisted arms control talks with the Biden administration, raising security risks.

As China forges ahead with investments in nuclear weapons, the Biden administration has signaled a different approach. Possible constraints on future defense spending forced the acting secretary of the Navy to issue a memo that called for cutting funding for sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles.  Republican hawks blasted the memo, saying the cuts were "bewildering and short-sighted."

The Biden administration has said it will initiate a nuclear posture review, and the Pentagon announced on June 11 that China’s nuclear rise presents a serious concern. In March, House Republicans pressed the White House to act quickly in upgrading U.S. nuclear weapons technology.