A Pentagon report on Chinese military strength indicates that Beijing plans to double its nuclear warhead stockpile in the next decade, Defense News reported Tuesday.
While such an action would not threaten to surpass America’s own missile inventory of 3,800 active nuclear warheads with more stored away, China would be able to project significantly more geopolitical power than it can with its current stockpile of missiles in the low 200s.
The Pentagon sees China's nuclear aspirations as a significant concern. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its associated technological apparatus are "not intended to be merely a showpiece of Chinese modernity," but an explicit means for more powerful Chinese statecraft, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China Chad Sbragia.
"The Communist Party has spent the last several years completely tearing out and rewiring the PLA organizationally with the goal of transforming into a joint force that is more combat-ready, innovative, and global," Sbragia added.
Chinese military advancement is not just limited to warhead development. China plans to fashion itself into a "space great power," allowing it to improve its above-earth strike capabilities aimed at satellites and further hone lightning-fast communications and missile early-warning technology.
"They’ve chosen to make those investments, and they’ve chosen for a reason, which is that their aspirations are not small," Sbragia told the Washington Free Beacon. "They have a very clear and definitive aspiration for becoming a global power preeminent by all measures, at least in terms of status, to any others. And space is not the least of that."
Perhaps even more critically, China now commands a larger navy than the United States with over 350 deployable ships and submarines, compared to the U.S. Navy’s fleet of 293.
Historically, the American Navy has for decades been the largest and most powerful in the world, ensuring freedom of navigation and the assertion of national interest in far-reaching waters. The Chinese fleet—and the regime's interest in developing ports in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and African coast—stand to challenge American maritime supremacy.
"I don’t think they’ve reached final conclusions on any of those yet," Sbragia said. "But their aspirations are not small, and they’re not limited to a single geographic location. This is global in scale."
Maritime security experts have called for an in-kind expansion of the American Navy, especially as President Donald Trump promised to build a 350-ship fleet as a candidate in 2016.
"The U.S. Navy has been a key foundation of this Pax Americana," wrote current National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien in 2017. "Abandoning that successful strategy is not something that we should do lightly, as the dangers, which we have merely glimpsed over the past decade, are serious indeed. The American people voted for and deserve such a Navy, and our sailors and Marines, who serve on those ships, do as well."