The main contractor for China’s nuclear projects has seen a massive increase in orders from the military compared with a year ago, signalling Beijing’s intensified push to boost its military nuclear capacities.
China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Group Corporation Limited reported that the value of its military contracts in the first seven months had surged nearly fourfold year-on-year.
Observers said the figures reflected China’s steadfast efforts to catch up with the United States, which is increasingly concerned about China’s nuclear capabilities, including recent reports about the build-up of missile silos.
A statement on Wednesday said the company had received about 17.2 billion yuan (US$2.65 billion) in new military contracts up to July, an increase of 391 per cent over the same period last year.
As a state-owned listed company, China Nuclear Engineering and Construction is a contractor for national defence industry projects. It is mainly engaged in the military, nuclear power, and industrial and civil engineering projects, and has developed hi-tech projects in the nuclear, aerospace, aviation, shipping and weapons sectors, according to the company website.
Its military engineering arm in particular saw a sharp increase in new contracts, going up by 302.2 per cent year on year in June and 332.4 per cent in May.
The boost for military nuclear engineering is in line with China’s strategy of strengthening its defence forces, according to the company’s 2020 annual report, which pointed that the “the world’s major powers have accelerated the development of advanced defence and military technologies and increased their investment in the field of nuclear energy”.
Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said that it was normal and necessary for China to increase the number of nuclear weapons and improve the nation’s nuclear capability in the face of the rising challenge posed by the US and its strategy of suppression.
“The numbers [released by the company] indicate a trend of expanding our nuclear weapons and power systems, which come under the nuclear military engineering sector,” he said.
“It is necessary for us to expand our capabilities in this field in order to maintain national security on our own, as the United States is increasingly challenging China and interfering in China’s internal affairs more deeply”.
The US has in recent months expressed increasing concern over China’s nuclear arsenal and repeatedly called on China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concerns about China’s growing nuclear arsenal during a meeting with foreign ministers of Asian countries and partner nations, saying it highlighted “how Beijing has sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence”.
Last month, US think-tank reports based on satellite imagery said that China appeared to be constructing hundreds of new silos for nuclear missiles, although Chinese media outlets suggested it was a wind farm.
Li Bin, a nuclear issues expert at Tsinghua University, said it was hard to explain the factors behind the sharp growth of the company’s military nuclear projects: it may have been due to a low base last year caused by the pandemic. However, if China was indeed building more nuclear silos, it was only acting responsibly by improving its “strategic stability”.
“If the reports that China is constructing more silos are true, it means that it will be harder for the US to attack China, which is a responsible attitude as it improves strategic stability,” Li said