The latest satellite images reveal that China is expanding its nuclear test sites in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, including erecting a facility that could be used to store explosives.
In its latest report, the Nikkei has reviewed the latest satellite images with several experts that seem to affirm China is enhancing its nuclear testing capability. The satellite images show new development and expansion of China’s nuclear test facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The new evidence was discovered by the satellite at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site southeast of Western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Many experts think the People’s Liberation Army is responsible for protecting the covert nuclear testing site.
According to the report, extensive coverings have been constructed on a mountainside in this arid region and the broken rocks piled nearby are thought to prove that a new “sixth tunnel” for testing has been dug out nearby.
Recent construction includes power transmission cables and a facility that could be used to store high explosives. The images also showed that several unpaved white roads branch off a command post.
An expert at AllSource Analysis, a US private geospatial company, said that China could undertake nuclear-related tests anytime, especially considering the electricity line and road network that now joins Lop Nor’s western military nuclear test facilities to new prospective test sites in the east.
China is expanding its nuclear arsenal to establish itself as the world’s dominant power. In 2021, a pentagon report outlined many developments, including Beijing’s “large-scale expansion of its nuclear forces,” which could seriously threaten the US.
The Pentagon has previously issued similar warnings. The Pentagon’s 2020 report on China’s military revealed that Beijing’s arsenal of nuclear warheads would have at least doubled by the decade’s end.
However, the recent report contains a more urgent warning: according to the Pentagon, China “has accelerated its nuclear expansion” and is “exceeding the pace and size the DoD projected in 2020.”
The communist country, however, faces many difficulties in its quest to catch up to the US. The Chinese Communist Party, according to President Xi Jinping, “rules east, west, north, and south,” which implies that it has control over the PLA.
The latest report highlighted that China’s military leadership is still corrupt and nepotistic. The Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979 was the PLA’s previous significant experience in actual combat.
The Xi administration may be thinking about forcibly annexing Taiwan. Even the possibility of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, visiting Taiwan has drawn a grave threat from Beijing. Chinese officials might consider this potential visit an invasion and take drastic military action.
But given the severe flaws in the quality of Russian military hardware, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has served as a stark reminder of the dangers of military actions. Over 66% of China’s imported military hardware comes from Russia.
Sixth Tunnel On Its Way?
Beijing stopped conducting explosive tests in the area a quarter century ago. The country has conducted five underground nuclear tests at Lop Nur, the last being in 1996. The latest report highlighted the evidence of a planned resumption, including excavating the sixth tunnel.
Tenders requested from the area contain some convincing evidence as well. An official Chinese procurement website issued a request for proposals in April for “10 radiation dose alarms,” “12 protective suits,” and “one wound site taints detector,” the report revealed.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has no nuclear power plants, but the XPCC stated that it will “start strengthening the capacity to monitor radioactivity in 2022.” In the area, there has been a rise in the purchase of related equipment.
In October 2020, satellites found fresh evidence of Lop Nur’s terrain leveling work. The report noted, “Big trucks came and went in 2021, and the power infrastructure for the sixth tunnel was built in the first half of 2022.” The construction work of the explosive storage facility was completed in June 2022.
Alongside these developments, excessive radiation levels were seen in the area. Nearby, a new underground facility was discovered that could be employed to launch nuclear missiles, the report added.
Why Is China Expanding Its Nuclear Facility?
China worries that the US, which has a more powerful triad and more nuclear weapons, could launch a preemptive attack on its nuclear arsenal and launch capabilities, leaving China without sufficient defenses.
This has driven Beijing to seek out more weapons and delivery systems to have enough to withstand an attack and get past US missile defenses.
Also, maritime control will be the primary concern in a Taiwan Strait emergency. China may be able to keep US aircraft carriers at bay with the help of small nuclear weapons with limited strike power.
Although the US has not yet taken a direct part in the conflict in Ukraine, some analysts contend that the potential use of nuclear weapons has made Washington even more cautious about getting involved. China is undoubtedly aware of this line of thinking.
The expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal may be the most obvious sign of the country’s combat readiness. Still, it’s only one part of a more extensive buildup that worries military leaders and decision-makers worldwide.