May 23rd 2020
Three’s a crowd
SINCE TESTING its first nuclear bomb 56 years ago, China has never revealed even a ballpark figure for the size of its arsenal. So recent debate on Chinese social media about the number of warheads the country ought to amass has been striking for its specificity. It began on May 8th with a suggestion by the editor of a nationalist tabloid in Beijing that China should expand its stockpile to 1,000 nuclear weapons. These, he said, should include 100 DF-41s, a new kind of intercontinental missile capable of hitting anywhere in America. Thousands of commentators have cheered him on. A few have called for more restraint.
America, while not welcoming such a build-up, would like it if China were to make its intentions so clear. It wants the country to end its obsessive secrecy and join America and Russia in setting limits to the size of their nuclear arsenals. The DF-41s, first displayed in public last October at a National Day parade in Beijing (see picture), are one reason why America is growing ever more keen to get China talking. They are China’s first missiles with such a range that can go on roads, making them more difficult for American weapons to knock out than ones fired from silos or fixed launchers. They can probably carry multiple warheads, making it even harder to protect America from their devastation.