The Department of Defense briefed reporters on the 2023 China Military Power Report that DOD delivered to Congress this week. In it, the Pentagon says that China now has 500 nuclear warheads, is deepening ties to Russia, and is increasing its aggression on Taiwan.
The annual report to Congress is based on the National Defense Strategy’s premise that China is the only competitor with the intent, will and capability to reshape the international order, said a Pentagon official, who described the PRC as the department’s “top pacing challenge.”
The report “charts the current course of the PRC’s national economic and military strategies, and offers insight into the [Chinese military’s] strategy, its current capabilities, some of its operational activities, as well as its future modernization goals,” he said.
Communist leaders seek “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” by 2049 – the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of the world’s largest country.
Part of this effort is China is increasing military coercion, the official said. An example of this is the increasing numbers of unsafe intercepts of U.S., allied and partner vessels and aircraft operating in international air and seaways of the Indo-Pacific region. “Between the fall of 2021 and the fall of 2023, the United States documented over 180 instances of [the People’s Liberation Army] coercive and risky air intercepts against U.S. aircraft in the region,” the official said. When allies and partners are included, this jumps to more than 300 instances.
The report also covers China’s intensifying pressure campaign against Taiwan including Chinese ballistic missile overflights of Taiwan, increased flights into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone and the large-scale simulated joint blockade and simulated joint firepower strike operations done after a visit to the island by a U.S. congressional delegation.
Additionally, China’s deepening security ties with Russia are covered. In fact, as the official was detailing the content of the report, Chinese President Xi Jinping was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative in China. The senior defense official said China sees its emergence as a great power as tied to the alliance with Russia.
The report also looks at the continued development of the Chinese military’s nuclear, space and cyberspace capabilities. “We see the PRC continuing to quite rapidly modernize and diversify and expand its nuclear forces,” he said. “They are expanding and investing in their land, sea and air-based nuclear delivery platforms, as well as the infrastructure that’s required to support this.”
The report estimates the Chinese had more than 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May 2023. “That is on track to exceed some of our previous predictions,” he said.
China is developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles. These may also be conventionally-armed missiles. “If developed and fielded, such capabilities would allow the PRC to threaten conventional strikes against targets in the continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska,” the official said.
According to the report, Chinese leaders are seeking to modernize People’s Liberation Army capabilities in all domains of warfare.
On the land, the People’s Liberation Army continues to modernize its equipment and focus on combined arms and joint training, the department said. The Chinese military is still a conscript force with two intakes a year. The military is working to field long-range fires and incorporate the capability into their doctrine.