Nuclear Disarmament China

NPT Nuclear Weapon State


DF-4 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Wikimedia Commons

Arsenal Size

  • Most opaque of the nuclear weapon states; limited open source information.
  • Total inventory of nuclear warheads: approximately 280; approximately 160 are deployed [1]

Key Delivery Systems

  • Land-based missiles: Approximately 120 to 130 total. (Approximately 75-100 ICBMs: DF-4, DF-5A, DF-31, DF-31A, DF-41 (developmental); MRBM: DF-3A, DF-21, DF-26) [2]
  • The 2018 Department of Defense report states that the DF-5B is equipped to include a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) and that the DF-41 is able to carry MIRVs. [3]
  • The Department of Defense also reported the possibility of China exploring other launch options for the DF-41 ICBM, which include silo based and rail-mobile based launch capabilities. [4]
  • Aircraft: Approximately 20 (Hong-6) bombers with a secondary nuclear mission. [5]
  • (SLBM: China has four commissioned Jin-class SSBNs (12 JL-2 Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability per SSBN). China also has one prototype Type 092 Xia-class submarine, but it is believed to be inoperable. The JL-2 was successfully test-launched in 2013 and has an estimated range of 7,000 plus km. [6]
  • Cruise missiles: Approximately 200-300 air- and ground-launched cruise missiles. The DH-10 GLCMs and CJ-20 ALCMs were both previously listed as nuclear capable in the past by the US Air Force Global Strike Command, but there is no clear consenus on their nuclear capability. [7]
  • Currently replacing older, transportable, slower launch liquid-fuel missiles with longer range, road mobile, quick launch solid-fuel missiles. [8]
  • The warheads are controlled by the Central Military Commission and kept in central facilities located throughout China. If a nuclear threat should arise, nuclear warheads would be mated with missiles and SSBNs would have to be equipped with warheads before deployment. However, recent satellite images have prompted speculation that Chinese warheads will eventually be deployed on patrolling SSBNs beyond Chinese borders, similarly to some other nuclear weapon states. [9]
  • No credible evidence to confirm that non-strategic nuclear weapons still remain in the operational force. [10]

Estimated Destructive Power

Military Fissile Material Stockpile (estimates)

Disarmament & Commitments to Reduce Arsenal Size

  • Legal obligation to pursue disarmament with the other nuclear weapon states under Article VI of the NPT. [14]
  • China is the only nuclear weapon state party to the NPT that is increasing the size of its arsenal. [15]

Future Commitments

  • In support of negotiating a verifiable FMCT provided the treaty does not cover existing stockpiles. [16]
  • Advocates a long-lasting commitment to nuclear disarmament, prohibition, and destruction of nuclear weapons. [17]
  • China joined all other nuclear weapons possessing states in boycotting the 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty negotiations at the UN General Assembly. [18] China does not intend to sign the resulting Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. [19]

Nuclear Weapons Policies

Nuclear Testing

  • Has observed a nuclear testing moratorium since July 1996 [20]
  • Signed but did not ratify the CTBT [21]
  • Signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 [22]

Use of Nuclear Weapons

Sources:
[1] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Status of World Nuclear Forces," Federation of American Scientists, November 2018, www.fas.org; "Increasing Transparency of Nuclear-warhead and Fissile-material Stocks as a Step toward Disarmament," International Panel on Fissile Materials, June 2015, www.fissilematerials.org.
[2] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 289-295.
[3] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 16 May 2018, www.defense.gov; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 289-295.
[4] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 16 May 2018, www.defense.gov.
[5] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 289-295.
[6] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 16 May 2018, www.defense.gov; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 289-295.
[7] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 294.
[8] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 74, No. 4, (June 2018), p. 289-295.
[9] Mark A. Stokes, "China's Nuclear Warhead Storage and Handling System," Project 2049 Institute, 12 March 2010, www.project2049.net; Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, "Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2011," Nuclear Notebook, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November/December 2011, pp. 81-87, www.thebulletin.org; Hans M. Kristensen, "China SSBN Fleet Getting Ready – But for What?" Strategic Security Blog, Federation of American Scientists, 25 April 2014, www.fas.org.
[10] "Status of World Nuclear Forces," Federation of American Scientists, 28 April 2015, www.fas.org.
[11] Eliminating Nuclear Threats, ICNND Report, 2009, www.icnnd.org.
[12] Hui Zhang, “China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile,” International Panel on Fissile Material, December 2017, p. 3, www.fissilematerials.org.
[13] Hui Zhang, “China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile,” International Panel on Fissile Material, December 2017, p. 3, www.fissilematerials.org.
[14] Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations & Regimes, www.nti.org.
[15] Daniel Cebul, “Which Nations Increased the Size of Their Nuclear Arsenal in 2017?” Defense News, 19 June 2018, www.defensenews.com.
[16] "China’s National Defense in 2010," Information Office of the State Council, The People's Republic of China (Beijing), March 2011, www.gov.cn/english.
[17] China Statement to Main Committee I at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, 4 May 2015, www.un.org; China Statement at the General Debate of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, 27 April 2015, www.un.org.
[18] “Positions on the treaty,” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, 7 July 2017, www.icanw.org.
[19] “Russia, UK, China, US, France Won’t Sign Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” TASS, 29 October 2018, http://tass.com.
[20] “Nuclear Testing 1945 - Today,” Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, www.ctbto.org.
[21] Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations & Regimes, www.nti.org; Kingston Reif, "The Case for the CTBT: Stronger than Ever," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Web Edition, 9 April 2012, www.thebulletin.org.
[22] Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations & Regimes, www.nti.org.
[23] Statement by H.E. Mr. Wu Haitao, Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs on the Issue of Nuclear Disarmament at the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference, 3 May 2012, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[24] Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, www.nonproliferation.org.
[25] Peter Crail, "Progress Made on SE Asian Nuclear Pact," Arms Control Today, Vol. 41, December 2011, www.armscontrol.org.
[26] Central Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (CASWFZ), Nuclear Threat Initiative, www.nti.org.
[27] Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, www.nonproliferation.org.
[28] "Nuclear Disarmament and the Reduction of the Danger of Nuclear War," Working Paper submitted by China to the 2015 NPT Review Conference, 27 April 2012, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

June 28, 2019
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The Nuclear Disarmament Resource Collection contains information and analysis of nuclear weapons disarmament proposals and progress worldwide, including detailed coverage of disarmament progress in countries who either possess or host other countries' nuclear weapons on their territories.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.