We believe that China has built over 350 nuclear warheads, of which approximately 272 are for delivery by over 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles, and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. This would make China one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world.
The actual number is probably much higher because China's nuclear arsenal is believed to be aging and unreliable. For example, only about half of China's nuclear missiles are estimated to be functional at any given time.
China's nuclear weapons program began in the 1950s when the Soviet Union provided technology and equipment to help China develop its own nuclear capabilities. In 1969, China conducted it's first nuclear test explosion in an isolated area of northwestern Qinghai province. Since then, China has pursued a policy of nuclear deterrence against potential enemies. The country's main objective is to provide security against possible attacks from neighboring countries or foreign invaders.
In addition to having the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, China also has the fastest growing stockpile. In fact, some experts estimate that China will overtake America as the world's leading nuclear power by 2020. The reason for this growth is due to China's need for modern weaponry and their desire to possess nuclear missiles capable of reaching mainland China.
First, according to the most recent Defense Department assessment on China's military, China's warhead stockpile is "now assessed to be in the low-200s." This is little in compared to the United States' overall arsenal of 5,800 nuclear weapons. However, it does indicate that China has the ability to make a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so.
Second, China did test an atomic bomb in 2006. The country's first test came at least as early as 1964 and probably occurred earlier than that. The device was reportedly small but produced enough energy to destroy itself and some surrounding material. No one knows what kind of material was used because China refused to comment on the test or release any details about it.
Third, China has been working to improve its nuclear capabilities for many years. For example, from 1993 to 2003 it spent $7 billion on nuclear research and development. This work has not only helped it build more efficient power plants but also given it new ways to use its existing resources. In addition, China has built dozens of experimental nuclear reactors around the world. Many of these projects have failed due to poor management or corruption within government agencies, but some have succeeded.
China's nuclear program is still in its early stages and is expected to evolve over time.
China, the sixth country to produce nuclear weapons, today has between 250 and 350 nukes in its arsenal. In comparison, the United States has a total arsenal of 5,800 weapons, with 1,373 of them deployed on missiles, bomber bases, or submarines at any one moment. Russia has 9,500 warheads reported by the CIA, but some experts believe that number is low.
China's nuclear program began in the mid-1950s when it detonated its first bomb using plutonium supplied by the United States. In 1967, China conducted its first nuclear test, which was also made with plutonium supplied by America. Today, China is one of only five countries in the world who can manufacture nuclear weapons independently. The others are USA, Russia, France, and India.
China's official statement on its nuclear program is that it is for peaceful purposes only. But some experts believe that China's goal is not to defend itself against attack, but rather to project power into nearby territories where it borders several unstable countries.
In addition to possessing nuclear weapons, China also has over 160,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers, which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads. This makes it likely that China would use these weapons if it felt threatened by another country.
However, China has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), so it is not part of the international system of nuclear regulation.