China is only two years away from developing nuclear-powered submarines, according to a report from the congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
China is "on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs," the report stated.
For decades, China has had a “largely symbolic” ballistic missile submarine capability, but now wants to establish a "near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent.”
The report, cited by Reuters, also indicated that among the original nations with nuclear weapons (comprising China, United States, Russia, Britain and France), only China is aggressively expanding its nuclear program.
Last September, China introduced its maiden aircraft carrier, which Beijing purchased from Ukraine and refurbished.
President Hu Jintao, who is now in the process of handing over the reins of power,has long advocated a strong and modern Chinese navy.
"Building strong national defense and powerful armed forces that are commensurate with China's international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests is a strategic task of China's modernization drive," Hu said at the opening of the Chinese Communist Party congress, Reuters noted.
"We must make major progress in modernizing national defense and the armed forces,” leading to "complete military mechanization and make major progress in full military [information technology] application by 2020.”
Indeed, a nuclear submarine patrolling the waters of East Asia would greatly raise stakes in the region – China is engaged in a number of territorial disputes with various neighbors.
Beijing has also condemned the United States to “pivot” much of its foreign military forces to the Asia-Pacific theatre.
The report warned that an advanced nuclear submarine in China's hands and its ability to retaliate against a nuclear strike "would necessarily affect Indian and Russian perceptions about the potency of their own deterrent capabilities vis-à-vis China”.
As such, the report urged Congress to engage China deeper into nuclear arms reduction talks.
The Arms Control Assn. estimates China has 240 nuclear warheads – the U.S. has more than 5,000.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.