China has been urged to shore up its nuclear stockpile in the face of escalating geopolitical uncertainties in a commentary piece in the Chinese military's official newspaper, the PLA Daily.
The commentary was penned by two researchers from the PLA Academy of Military Science, a top research institute, which is directly accountable to China's Central Military Commission, Reuters reported.
In the op-ed, the country has been urged to "beef up" its nuclear capabilities to fend off potential threats from the US, which is keen on bolstering its own nuclear programme amid threats from North Korea.
Citing the PLA Daily, the Chinese military's official newspaper South China Morning Post reported that the country claims to already possess enough nuclear weapons to deter any "bullying" by other nations.
"To enhance China's strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China's status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability," the PLA Daily commentary reportedly said.
The commentary comes amid reports that the US is expanding its nuclear arsenal. According to a report by the Huffington Post, a leaked draft of a pending Nuclear Posture Review indicates that US president Donald Trump's administration may be looking to develop new nuclear weapons and could also make changes in policy, leaving the possibility open for a nuclear retaliation, even in the event of a major non-nuclear attack.
"In the roiling unpredictability of today's world, to upgrade the capability of our country's deterrence strategy, to support our great power position... we must strengthen the reliability and trustworthiness of our nuclear deterrence and nuclear counterstrike capabilities," it said, Reuters reported.
However, China reportedly claimed that it will adhere to the "no first use" policy. In other words, China will not be the first one to fire a nuclear weapon under any circumstance.
Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming told the South China Morning Post that China will have to add another 100 nuclear warheads to deter threats from India and the US. "Nuclear weapons are hugely expensive to maintain and China is very pragmatic. Beijing will not spend too much money on an arms race," Zhou reportedly said.
China has not declared the scale of its nuclear stockpile. However, Washington-based Arms Control Association reportedly estimates that Beijing has a total of 270 warheads, ranking China as fourth of the five biggest nuclear powers. Meanwhile, Russia reportedly has an estimated 7,000 nuclear warheads, US has 6,800, France has 300 and UK has 215, according to the Arms Control Association.
"China can assemble many nuclear weapons in a short time if there is a war. The PLA's ultimate goal is to strengthen the effectiveness of its nuclear counterstrike power. [But] it does not need as many as its US and Russian counterparts," Song Zhongping, a former member of the People's Liberation Army's Second Artillery Corps, said, the South China Morning Post reported.
China recently successfully tested its new hypersonic glide missile, the DF-17, which is believed to be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. The DF-17 is expected to be operational by 2020 and will reportedly be able to not only confound US missile defence systems but may also be able to accurately hit targets in Japan and India.