China will station nuclear-armed submarines in the Pacific, in the latest escalation between Beijing and Washington. The Guardian reports:
China has been working on ballistic missile submarine technology for more than three decades, but actual deployment has been put off by technical failures, institutional rivalry and policy decisions.
Until now, Beijing has pursued a cautious deterrence policy, declaring it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict and storing its warheads and its missiles separately, both strictly under the control of the top leadership.
Deploying nuclear-armed submarines would have far-reaching implications.
Warheads and missiles would be put together and handed over to the navy, allowing a nuclear weapon to be launched much faster if such a decision was taken. The start of Chinese missile patrols could further destabilise the already tense strategic standoff with the US in the South China Sea.
There’s a lot to be concerned about in the Pacific these days. Last week saw Chinese aircraft maneuvering around an American fighter over the South China Sea. Earlier this week, Chinese state media raised the possibility of war with the United States should there be a midair collision as a result of future encounters. Then the United States lifted the arms embargo on Vietnam, a move which has greatly frustrated Beijing.
Things are heating up between China and the United States. We’ve written that Beijing seems to be trying to take advantage of President Obama’s final year in office, believing he might be less likely to confront them than whomever comes next. But the White House (and in particular the Pentagon) seem to have more fight in them than Beijing bargained. The question is which side will blink first, and what will happen if neither does.