China has entertained the threat of nuclear strikes against west coast cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle, a 2014 annual congressional report from the US China Economic and Security Review Commission states.
According to the report, a Chinese newspaper sponsored by the Communist Party ran an article in November 2013 about the possibilities of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strikes against much of the US’s Pacific coast. In the scenario imagined by the newspaper, China’s new JIN ballistic missile submarine could act as an ultimate deterrent to any hostile US foreign policy.
[T]he 12 JL-2 nuclear missiles carried by one JIN nuclear submarine could cause the destruction of five million to 12 million people, forming a very clear deterrent effect. There is not a dense population in the United States’ Midwest region, so to increase the destructive effect, the main soft targets for nuclear destruction in the United States will be the main cities on the west coast, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
China has made similar veiled threats against US involvement in their backyard issues before. During the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 to 1996, Chinese Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai told the US assistant secretary of defence that “Americans care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan.”
However, threats from China today carry more weight than they did during the 1990s. According to an executive summary of the report, China’s nuclear ICBM stockpile capable of reaching the US will likely expand to over 100 missiles within the next 15 years.
Simultaneously, China is putting finishing touches on a fleet of road-mobile ICBMs, the DF-41. The DF-41 will be capable of carrying up to 10 missiles that would each have a maximum range of 7,456 miles. This range would allow China to target the entirety of the continental US and it is expected to be ready within the year.
According to the executive summary, these capabilities are being produced to deter any unwanted US military action as Washington pivots its forces towards the Pacific. In practice, these new nuclear capabilities are providing “Beijing with a more extensive range of military and foreign policy options and potentially weakening U.S. extended deterrence, particularly with respect to Japan.”
These developments do not mean that China and the US are destined for conflict. However, China’s ballistic capabilities point to the possibility of a Cold War-style nuclear standoff between Beijing and the US that would minimise the US’s ability to militarily pressure China.
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