It’s the largest nuclear test site in the world, measuring up to 100,000 sq km. The site itself has been involved in an unprecedented build-up of nuclear-capable missiles of every range and type. American officials revealed China’s “secretive and destabilising” nuclear programme to representatives of NATO’s North Atlantic Council.
US special presidential envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, said in a video briefing that: “You have to look at what they’re doing at Lop Nur, where they have moved in effect to year-round activity.”
The United States has been monitoring the site and has picked up a significant increase in the pace at which China has been “pushing out a wide range of different kinds of missile systems.”
These include, “short-range, medium-range, long-range ballistic missiles, ICBMS [intercontinental ballistic missiles], road mobile, rail mobile”.
“You name it, they’ve got a full panoply of missile systems they’re pushing out the door,” Mr Billingslea said.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) has published a report in the past month assessing how China has a total of 320 nuclear warheads, the UK has 215 and France 290.
In comparison, the US has command of around 5,800, and Russia even more with 6,375.
Mr Billingslea said, however, that China had moved on from minimum deterrence and had demonstrated a “shift in thinking”.
“Apparently they intend to achieve some form of nuclear parity with both the United States and Russia, and whether that parity is qualitative at the outset or perhaps quantitative, this seems what they are determined to do,” he said.
As part of this “radical shift” China is now after a nuclear triad and is looking to involve nuclear-armed ICBMs, submarines and bombers.
Mr Billingslea has insisted that China was no longer at the same level of nuclear capability as the British or French.
He believes it is time Beijing agreed to join the arms control talks.
“The Russians have a wonderful saying, their version of the apples and oranges analogy, which is to say that drinking tea is not like chopping wood,” he said.
“So to suggest that the United Kingdom and France, who are cordially drinking tea and simply maintaining their nuclear deterrence, while the Chinese are busy chopping wood very actively, we can’t agree to that characterisation,” he said.