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Precise information on the extent of China’s nuclear arsenal is difficult to obtain, due to a lack of open source information and often contradictory or exaggerated claims.

Chinese nuclear capabilities 

Over the last two decades China has been actively expanding its nuclear capabilities in order to achieve a more robust and survivable nuclear force; at the same time as developing a credible second-strike capability.

  • China’s nuclear posture is based on the concept of “self-defence” and, as such, it maintains a nuclear force based on the minimum required for its national security.
  • It has a longstanding no first-use policy.
  • China’s nuclear stockpile is estimated at 350 warheads.
  • Nuclear forces are maintained at a low alert level. No warheads are thought to be operationally deployed but kept in storage under central control.
  • Is believed to have a viable nuclear triad of ground, air and sea-launched forces.
  • Does not operate continuous at-sea deterrence.

The extent of China’s nuclear expansion has raised questions over the compatibility of its modernisation plans with its posture of self-defence and no first use.

This short paper is intended as an introduction to China’s nuclear weapons policies and programmes. It is part of a series of country profiles which are available on the House of Commons Library website.

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