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Oct. 26, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

New details of China’s underground nuclear facilities

By Bill Gertz
The Pentagon for the first time disclosed new details of underground nuclear and weapons facilities that are being expanded as part of China‘s large-scale military buildup, according to the annual U.S. military power report.

The report made public last week contains a section on underground facilities that conceal and protect Chinese nuclear forces in particular. The bunkers and tunnels are used for People’s Liberation Army nuclear warhead and missile storage, command and control facilities, and for constructing “modernized missile, ground, air and naval forces,” the Defense Department report said.

China “has thousands of [underground facilities] and constructs more each year. These UGFs are central to the PRC’s counter-intervention and power projection efforts, enabling the PLA to protect valuable assets from the effects of missile strikes and to conceal military operations from adversaries.”

Phil Karber, a nuclear weapons expert who first revealed Chinese underground nuclear facilities a decade ago as part of an open-source intelligence project, said the Pentagon report confirms that the amount of protected weapons in storage has grown significantly.

“The Chinese have been covering up in both Google Maps and other open-source mapping programs the sensitive bases,” said Mr. Karber, president of the Potomac Foundation. “They’re being careful and trying to block satellites, making it much harder to track their underground facilities.”

The underground nuclear complexes are part of a strategic deterrence effort for large underground nuclear sites capable of surviving an initial nuclear attack.

According to the report, expansion of the underground nuclear bunkers began in mid- to late 1980s, and “took on renewed urgency” after the 1991 Gulf War and 1999 U.S. and NATO bombing strikes in Yugoslavia. Those operations offered dazzling demonstrations of precision missile and bombing strikes the Chinese saw as threats to its hidden forces.

“These military campaigns convinced China it needs to build more survivable, deeply buried facilities to protect military assets from the effects of penetrating conventional munition and nuclear strikes,” the report said.

Chinese military reforms since 2015 resulted in expanding construction of underground tunnels, rail lines and factories, along with underground air and naval bases that would produce redundant “nodes” for wartime planning, the report said.

“These nodes aim to enable continuous [command and control], communications, sustainment and counterstrike capabilities across all PLA services and domains, as well as its joint forces,” the report said, adding that the PLA is expected to “continue to develop and expand its UGF program to support its expanding forces and military modernization.”

Public details of the Chinese underground program were first revealed in Mr. Karber’s 2011 report produced for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

The report, “China’s Great Underground Wall,” described how a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province uncovered evidence of the underground sites. A high-level Chinese military source secretly reported that the earthquake completely destroyed their army’s largest weapons arsenal, the report revealed.

Nationwide, underground complexes provide the military with more than 3,000 miles of tunnels, rail lines and factories spread out across China, including the rebuilt weapons complex in Sichuan; another facility at Lop Nur, the Chinese nuclear testing site in Tibet; and at several other sites in the northeast, northwest and southeast parts of the country.

The largest underground nuclear storage facility is called 22 Base in Qinling mountain, about 86 miles east of the city of Xian in north central China.

China also built an artificial cave near the central city of Chongqing known as Project 816 that is a reserve weapons production complex equipped with underground nuclear reactors for producing fuel for warheads.

Mr. Karber wrote over a decade ago that a larger Chinese nuclear force than estimated “raises grave questions” for U.S. national security and undermines efforts to coax Beijing into arms control talks with the U.S. and Russia.

The commander of the Strategic Command, Adm. Charles Richard, told Congress in 2021 that the Chinese nuclear buildup amounted to a “strategic breakout” for Beijing.

Mr. Karber said the Chinese nuclear expansion would require more and more advanced U.S. nuclear weapons in response.

As for arms control with China, Mr. Karber stated that China has a history of successful secrecy and deception when it comes to its strategic weapons programs.

Unlike the United States, China also does not distinguish between nuclear and conventional missiles and designs most of its weapons to work with either conventional or nuclear warheads. The underground nuclear network also makes verifying arms deals with China extremely difficult with satellites and other electronic means, he said.

Three new surface ICBM fields in western China are being equipped with an estimated 320 land-based intercontinental range missiles. The Pentagon report said construction of the missile fields is completed and that missiles are being deployed in the silos

. The new missile fields represent a break with the past secrecy of underground missile bases for road and rail mobile systems.

House GOP leaders condemn Chinese foreign minister’s visit
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a subcommittee chairwoman on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the visit to Washington this week by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Panel Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, and Rep. Young Kim, California Republican and chair of the Indo-Pacific subcommittee, said they opposed the visit based on what they said was the Chinese Communist Party’s wrongful detention of American citizens and its aggressive military actions in the South China Sea.

A Chinese maritime patrol ship recently rammed a Philippine supply ship at a disputed outpost claimed by Manila in the sea, prompting a warning from the State Department.

The visit by Mr. Wang, the first by a Chinese foreign minister to Washington since 2019, follows a series of visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior Biden administration officials to Beijing in recent months. But it also comes “amid increasingly aggressive” actions by the ruling Communist Party, Mr. McCaul and Ms. Kim said.

“From its military aggression against Taiwan and the Philippines, to arbitrarily detaining American citizens like Mark Swidan and holding political prisoners, to coercing countries into debt-trap infrastructure projects, [China] has made clear that it is an unreliable partner,” they said.

The House leaders said Mr. Blinken and other White House officials “should not fall for false promises [from Beijing], but demand deliverables such as releasing Americans taken hostage in China, stopping the export of fentanyl precursors, and halting its military expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr. Wang’s visit is part of an administration initiative to step up communications and engagement with China in a bid to avert a looming conflict.

The foreign minister is expected to discuss a possible meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco next month at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which would be the first face-to-face talk between the two leaders in a year.

Apple cancels Jon Stewart over China worries
Technology giant Apple is canceling the comedy show hosted by iconoclastic liberal comedian Jon Stewart over fears the company will upset China, a major market and manufacturer for Apple products.

Reports in the New York Times and Variety said the cancellation of “The Problem With Jon Stewart” after two years followed on-air comments by Mr. Stewart about artificial intelligence and China.

Mr. Stewart earned a reputation for political incorrectness and poking fun at both liberals and conservatives, first at Comedy Central’s show “The Daily Show,” a mix of news, comedy and satire, and for the last two years on Apple.

“Comedy doesn’t change the world, but it’s a bellwether,” Mr. Stewart said in 2021 for winning the Mark Twain Award. “We’re the banana peel in the coal mine.”

Sources told the publications that the show was killed as a result of disagreements over some of the topics and guests. Apple executives opposed planned programming related to China and artificial intelligence.

Apple is known for altering its policies to avoid angering China‘s censors. And Beijing is also facing mounting criticism for pressuring American companies doing business in China to support its policies. China banned the use of iPhones by Chinese government workers over fears the phones could be used for American spying.

Apple’s technology is ubiquitous, primarily through its mobile devices that generally have better security features against hacking than other brands.

Apple CEO Tim Cook traveled to China last week and posted on his Weibo social media account that he visited an Apple store in Chengdu where he met video gamers, Agence France Presse reported. Apple has been doing business in China since 1993 and is a major provider of smartphones, laptops and consumer electronics for the Chinese market.

In an earlier visit, Mr. Cook said Apple enjoys a “symbiotic” relationship with China. But critics say Mr. Cook’s ties run even deeper and include being named chairman of Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in 2019.

Tsinghua is a major element of China’s civil-military “fusion” program designed to ensure that all technological developments created in the private sector are available to the military.

Apple also reportedly lobbied Congress to limit elements of the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that bans products made with prison labor from Xinjiang in western China.

Apple also censored products and apps on Hong Kong and Taiwan that were opposed by the Chinese Communist Party, and has some of its iCloud data on servers in China that could provide the government with access to emails and text messages.

An Apple spokesman and Richard Klubek, Mr. Stewart’s agent, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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