China's DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

The United States expressed “grave concern” Thursday, following reports that China is strengthening its nuclear arsenal, and called on Beijing to engage in dialogue to avoid a new arms race.

“It is in everyone’s interest that the nuclear powers talk to each other directly about nuclear risk reduction and (how to) avoid miscalculation,” Robert Wood, the US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, told reporters.

Wood’s comments came in response to press reports last week that China is building more than 100 new silos to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Washington Post, citing an analysis of satellite images by the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, reported that 119 silos are being built in a desert near the city of Yumen in northwest China.

Wood said that was “deeply concerning”.

“As long as China does not sit down with the United States on a bilateral level, the risk of a devastating arms race will continue to increase and it will not be in anyone’s interest,” the US ambassador added.

The diplomat added that China claims to be a “responsible nuclear power” and that “its very, very small arsenal is purely defensive (…) but when you see a lot of what China is doing, it contradicts what it says.”

Robert Wood spoke of a series of new weapons systems that China will seek to develop, including missiles that are capable of reaching the United States and could cause “totally change the dynamics of global strategic stability.”

For the US ambassador, one of the main problems is the lack of transparency in this part of China, which does not provide any details about its nuclear arsenal.

In its first assessment last year of Beijing’s nuclear capability, the US Department of Defense estimated it had more than 200 warheads and suggested it wanted to double its number in the next decade.

“We say that the (Chinese) nuclear weapons program is capable of doubling its stockpile over the next 10 years, but the number may be higher,” Wood said.

“If you don’t come to the (negotiating) table, it’s hard to know what China is doing,” he stressed.

The estimated number of nuclear warheads held by the Chinese remains well below the more than 11,000 warheads held by the United States and Russia combined.

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