July 2, 2022


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China's defense minister says nuclear buildup is justified

China’s defense minister says nuclear buildup is justified

SINGAPORE – China’s defense minister said the country was developing its nuclear arsenal – a move he said was appropriate given the state of international security – and warned that Beijing would struggle to block Taiwan’s independence.

General Wei Fengyi’s remarks on Sunday at a conference in Singapore aligned with China’s previously announced official lines. But the timing of the response It was a direct response to Washingtonwhich seeks to strengthen its influence in Asia.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday that China is taking a more aggressive approach to territorial claims and that its military is increasingly engaging in provocative behavior, including around Taiwan, where Chinese warplanes are investigating the island’s air defenses.

General Wei responded on Sunday that it was the US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region that was pushing the two sides toward confrontation. Regarding Taiwan, he issued a letter of defiance often voiced by Beijing. “No one should underestimate the determination and ability of the Chinese military to protect its territorial integrity,” he said.

General Wei and Mr. Austin held their first face-to-face meeting last week ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue, a gathering of high-ranking military officers and defense officials that often provided an opportunity for contacts between Americans and Chinese. aspects.

A Dongfeng-41 ICBM at a 2019 parade.


Shu Yu / Zuma Press

This year’s discussions came amid rising tensions over Taiwan and a war in Europe that has highlighted military divisions between the United States and China. This followed comments made by President Biden during a visit to Tokyo in May, in which he said the United States would respond militarily to any Chinese effort to seize Taiwan by force.

In General Wei’s speech on Sunday, he said US moves in the region – including its alliance with Australia, Japan and India, Unofficially known as the QuartetIt can create conflicts by encouraging Asian countries to target China. He also addressed Beijing’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – another flashpoint with the United States – by reiterating previous assurances that China does not supply any weapons to Russia.

General Wei also spoke about China’s nuclear arsenal, saying it was for purely defensive purposes, and reiterated Beijing’s pledge not to first attack with such weapons.

“China is developing nuclear capabilities at a moderate and appropriate level,” General Wei said. “This means being able to protect our nation’s security so that we can avoid the catastrophe of war, especially the catastrophe of nuclear war.”

While General Wei did not describe the scale of the nuclear arsenal’s expansion while responding to a question about weapons after his official speech, it was a rare public comment by a high-ranking Chinese military official about a program that the United States says is growing and should be subject to arms control talks.

General Wei, who formerly commanded China’s missile force, said the country’s military modernization has included Deploy all new weapons It was shown at the 2019 military parade in Beijing. Among those featured on the show was the Dongfeng-41 ICBM, which can carry multiple nuclear warheads and has the range to strike the continental United States.

General Wei stopped short of linking the issue of nuclear weapons and Beijing’s position on Taiwan, but he reiterated China’s firm positions that it intends to control the autonomous island and will firmly oppose efforts to consolidate its independence from mainland China.

Beijing’s nuclear weapons program is decades behind that of the United States and Russia. In recent years, China has begun to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal, according to US intelligence estimates. People familiar with the thinking of the Chinese leadership say the reinforcements are motivated by an appreciation that the United States He might be more willing to challenge him militarilyincluding a possible clash over Taiwan.

China refused to provide any explanation about its nuclear program and rejected US moves to start arms control talks. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized Beijing’s nuclear secrecy at the conference on Friday and said it should engage in talks with Washington.

The Pentagon expects China to have about 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of this decade, compared to a few hundred now. The United States and Russia each possess about 4,000 nuclear warheads.

Beijing has also developed and deployed more missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Satellite images indicate an acceleration of construction this year of more than 100 suspected missile silos in China’s remote western region that could contain Dongfeng-41 missiles.

China is building missile launch sites in the deserts and adding an aircraft carrier to its naval fleet. The Wall Street Journal spoke to military experts and analyzed satellite imagery to reveal Beijing’s pursuit of becoming a global military power that can stand up to the United States and its allies. Images: Maxar; Planet Labs BBC

At the Singapore ConferenceGeneral Wei did not respond to a question about the suspicious silos, but reiterated Beijing’s position that it would not initiate a nuclear conflict. Some US officials and analysts doubt those reassurances.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing over the Taiwan issue erupted in May when Mr. Biden said the US military would respond militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded, the third time he has made such a statement. US administrations have long maintained a policy of not declaring whether their military would help defend Taiwan from attack, while selling the island’s weapons to defend itself. Mr. Biden later He said that the position of the United States has not changed.

An increase in Chinese military flights near Taiwan this year has heightened Taiwan and US government officials’ concerns about Beijing’s intentions. China has also conducted military exercises to simulate an amphibious assault that military experts say would likely be part of an invasion. China says the self-governing island is part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.

In a meeting on Friday dominated by the Taiwan issue, Mr. Austin told General Wei that US policy toward the island had not changed, according to the US side. China’s defense minister said Beijing’s military would fight to prevent any move for the island’s independence, according to a spokesperson, but both sides gave accounts of the meeting that indicated a easing of friction, and each side emphasized the need to keep lines open. Communication to avoid crises.

write to Keith Chai at [email protected] and Alastair Gale at [email protected]

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