China expanding its nuclear arsenal: Report

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The Chinese nuclear arsenal is expanding and quickly, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published Monday.

The number of operational nuclear warheads globally is increasing every year, the report found, with the most rapidly-increasing stockpile belonging to China. The Institute predicted the Chinese arsenal of active intercontinental nuclear missiles could grow to match the American and Russian armaments by 2030.

“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI Director Dan Smith said in a statement. “This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning.”

The Institute estimated that the Chinese stockpile of nuclear weapons grew from 410 to about 500 operational warheads in 2023. It also said that China is believed to be deploying warheads during peacetime, what would be a first for the country.

While China’s total stockpile of nuclear weapons is expected to remain much lower than the U.S. or Russia, its aggressive deployment could see it match the other countries’ active armament in the coming years, SIPRI predicted.

“China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country,” SIPRI Associate Senior Fellow Hans Kristensen wrote. “But in nearly all of the nuclear-armed states there are either plans or a significant push to increase nuclear forces.”

About 2,100 nuclear missiles are believed to be deployed and operational at any given moment, SIPRI reported, with almost all of them owned by the U.S. or Russia.

China’s armament buildup comes as global tensions rise, between active conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza and constant simmering over Taiwan. China has increased its military drills near Taiwan in the last year, with some analysts believing China is eying an invasion of the disputed country.

The projected increase echoes a Pentagon report last October, which similarly stated that China is believed to have around 500 operational nuclear weapons. The Pentagon said Chinese capabilities could expand to about 1,000 weapons by 2030.

The nuclear expansion also comes as most countries move to expand or modernize their stockpiles, SIPRI found. The Institute said North Korea, France and India have made moves to expand their armament in the last year, while Israel — which does not officially acknowledge that it has nuclear weapons — is believed to have worked to modernize its stockpile.

China has continued its significant investment in defense despite a struggling economy and slow recovery from the COVID pandemic. A SIPRI report in April found that China invested about six percent of its budget into defense, the 29th consecutive year that its defense budget has increased. 

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