China’s nuclear strike threat: US commander hints at surprise attack

Image copyright AFP Image caption Zhao, right, questioned an official statement that Beijing would not pursue weapons capable of long-range destruction

China has the ability to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the US, an influential US commander has suggested.

The possibility comes as US-China relations are under intense scrutiny because of the trade war, as well as China’s military might.

US Central Command (Centcom) chief Gen Joseph Votel told Congress that China has an impressive arsenal of bombers and weapons.

China has reiterated that it has no interest in such weapons.

Such a strike would require a huge response, but Gen Votel cited Pentagon estimates that Beijing has at least 550 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

He also referred to estimates that China possesses 1,000 to 1,200 hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVVs), and 2,500 to 3,500 bombs and missiles, covering an area several times larger than China’s territory.

“China has the ability to place missiles on these to perform surprise attack missions,” he said.

‘Absolute falsehood’

China has said that it has no interest in or desire to develop such weaponry.

“Hypersonic weapons will not be used. China has not produced these missiles and does not have them,” China’s spokesman Hua Chunying said.

“They pose a low probability of ever being used and spreading nuclear weapons to outer space will harm the international order.”

Dr William J Daniels, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told the BBC he did not think Beijing had an interest in such weapons because they had such an adverse impact on the atmosphere.

China’s land-based ICBMs only have a range of about 5,000km, so would need to use HGVVs.

“They are here to protect China, and if they were directed at the US, it would be like shooting into the wind,” he said.

Dr Kristine Tu, an expert on Asia-Pacific security with the Stimson Centre, added that China has “no specific capability of using these weapons against the US”.

Instead, she said, these hypersonic systems are being developed for possible use against the US ballistic missile defence (BMD) system.

But it was difficult to judge what exactly these HGVVs could do, Dr Tu said.

Image copyright AFP Image caption China’s president Xi Jinping said last year that Beijing would seek to transform its military into a modern battle force

Ms Tu said the Pentagon’s estimates were “subject to reasonableness” and these weapons could do anything, from launch missiles to take out satellites.

China’s President Xi Jinping in March said his country would enhance its military prowess as part of an effort to transform into a modern battle force.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton has already said that any military attacks on the US by China would be met with an immediate response that would be “decisive, overwhelming and effective”.

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