CHINA has been ramping up its nuclear stockpile including with terrifying hypersonic missiles, a new report has found.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists study says China has 350 nuclear warheads – significantly more than previously thought – as it battles for nuclear power with the US.
Estimates from the US Department of Defense had put the figure in the low 200s.
The ramping up of China’s nuclear forces comes amid growing tension and military rivalry with the United States over the disputed South China Sea and Taiwan.
The new report arrived at the number by counting both operational warheads and newer weapons “still in development".
These include hypersonic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched weapons.
Among the weapons being deployed are the DF-26, which can reach a top speed of Mach 18 – or 18 times faster than the speed of sound.
It is capable of travelling 2,000 miles – far enough to blitz the US territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the weapons are deployed on enormous transporters which gives them greater survivability in the event of any conflict.
A Xi’an H-6 bomber was recently seen carrying what is believed to be a mock-up of a hypersonic missile, which would give the country another means of deploying nuclear weapons.
The report is written by Hans Kristensen, the director at the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate at FAS.
“China is continuing the nuclear weapons modernisation program that it initiated in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s and 2000s, fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before,” they say.
China has poured billions of pounds into modernising its military as it continues to threaten to invade Taiwan — which it regards as part of its territory.
China's president has ordered his troops to train harder and fight to the death as he called on the military to be ready for war.
President Xi Jinping said his country’s two million strong armed forces should train under real combat conditions and "not fear hardship", according to Beijing's state-run media.
In October, the PLA staged a terrifying war game that simulated invading the island.
The country has also stealthily taken over swathes of the South China Sea by building military bases on artificial islands.
Meanwhile, it has emerged China has developed a new stealth bomber which is feared to be capable of launching a sneak nuclear strike on the US Navy base in Pearl Harbour.
What is the dispute in the South China Sea about?
China lays claim to vast swathes of ocean and many islands – but some parts are also claimed by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
The dispute centres around legal claims to ocean areas and two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, which are thought to be abundant in natural resources.
Every year some £3.8 trillion of trade passes through the dispute area and the United States has been joined by Australia, the UK and France in sailing warships through it to assert freedom of navigation.
China has engaged in a massive military build-up in the area, creating a network of artificial islands, which it uses to assert its territorial claim.
It claims that these are part of its national coastline but the United States and the Philippines say that doesn't apply to artificial islands.
China's claim to a 12 mile territorial limit around the islands is not internationally recognised.
Warships from the United States and China have been engaged in tense stand-offs which have threatened to escalate into conflict in the disputed seas.
In January 2019, China reacted with fury after the US sent a missile destroyer through the disputed waters in a direct challenge to Beijing.
China responded by scrambling warships and aircraft to intercept the ship, which sailed within a dozen miles of the increasingly-militarised Paracel Island chain.
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