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China has not always made the case against U.S. missile defense as clearly as it could. One significant source of ambiguities is the sometimes unclear ways that Chinese experts describe precisely how U.S. missile defense systems undermine Chinese security interests. This is true even though Chinese experts long have emphasized the severity of the potential threat that U.S. missile defense systems pose. Professor Wu Riqiang, a Chinese nuclear expert at Renmin University, stated in 2019 that “for the foreseeable future, the biggest challenge confronting China’s nuclear deterrent will be US missile defense systems.”1 But a deeper look at the existing Chinese literature reveals a lack of research and much lingering uncertainty on how exactly U.S. missile defense programs affect China’s security, including its nuclear deterrent. This aspect of the ambiguity plaguing the United States and China on missile defense has at least three main elements.

First, over the past few decades, China seems to have felt a more urgent need to make its nuclear deterrent more credible and effective, yet it is unclear what factors have caused this heightened anxiety and what role missile defense plays, compared with other internal and external factors.

China has not always made the case against U.S. missile defense as clearly as it could.

Second, it is not evident which concerns Chinese policymakers see as the most pressing. Chinese experts have highlighted many ways in which U.S. missile defense could undermine China’s security interests, including by impacting its nuclear deterrent, conventional attack capabilities, and airspace security, among others. Yet it is unclear how Chinese military planners rank the relative severity of these different aspects of the perceived threat. Even in the most openly discussed risk to China’s nuclear deterrent, there is considerable ambiguity over the specific crisis scenarios that may trigger Chinese concerns. For example, given the United States’ more advanced theater-level missile defense capabilities (compared with its homeland missile defense systems), does China worry more about the impact of U.S. missile defense systems on its regional nuclear deterrent or its strategic nuclear deterrent? Publicly available Chinese domestic discussions do not provide clear answers.

Third, it is hard for the United States to assess how much of China’s severe opposition and strong response to U.S. missile defense is a result of specific security concerns over such systems themselves as opposed to broader geopolitical considerations. This is an important distinction because the two types of concerns require different mitigating measures. Specific security concerns may be resolvable at the technical and operational level by readjusting certain postures of military deployment and employment, whereas addressing geopolitical concerns would require effective confidence-building at the political level to reassure each other of their respective strategic intentions.

Why Does China Fear Its Nuclear Deterrent Is Vulnerable?

Chinese experts like Wu generally believe U.S. missile defense presents a serious, if not the most serious, threat to the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent.2 Yet it is less clear where this general belief comes from and how credible the evidence backing it is, as the openly available Chinese literature on this topic is very limited. Curiously, Beijing’s confidence in the sufficiency of its nuclear deterrent may not have significantly improved over the last thirty-five years, despite a multifold increase in China’s nuclear capabilities, in relative terms, compared with those of the United States (its main rival). Why has China not become more self-assured as its capabilities have matured? And how much does missile defense account for these apparent inconsistencies?

Interestingly enough, China’s threshold for a suitable nuclear deterrent appears to have been lower decades ago. Based on a comprehensive review of the history of China’s nuclear development, Wu concluded that China believed it had acquired an effective nuclear deterrent by the mid-1980s; at that time, its “threshold of effective deterrence” was still “surprisingly low,”3 as Beijing relied on a few silo-based, liquid-fueled DF-5 missiles for strategic deterrence.4 Experts generally believe that China possessed about 240 nuclear weapons in total during this period, whereas its two primary security rivals—the United States and the Soviet Union—had more than 23,000 and 39,000 nuclear weapons, respectively, at this time.5

It is striking to contrast those numbers with the present. Today, according to the most widely cited open-source figures, China’s nuclear arsenal has grown moderately to about 320 nuclear weapons; at the same time, the U.S. and Russian active arsenals have plummeted to about 3,800 and 4,312 weapons, respectively. During this same period, the United States has become China’s main rival.6 Additionally, China today has a total of roughly 116 ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that could strike the U.S. homeland (some of these missiles can each be armed with multiple warheads), compared with the only twenty or so single-warhead DF-5 ICBMs Beijing wielded before the mid-2000s.7

Beyond a quantitative increase, Beijing’s current nuclear weapons are also several generations more advanced than those of the mid-1980s. While U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies have grown more sophisticated and may have increased Washington’s preemptive strike potential (a topic that will be further discussed later), China’s nuclear weapon systems have improved constantly and significantly due to decades of modernization efforts. Taking all these factors into consideration, many people would expect China to be much more confident in its nuclear deterrent today than it used to be.

In practice, however, in the few open discussions that have taken place, Chinese officials and experts do not seem to be any less concerned now than they were in the mid-1980s; some of them even appear to feel that the task of improving China’s nuclear deterrent has become even more urgent.8

By contrast, some U.S. experts have cast doubt on China’s lingering qualms about its nuclear deterrent, or at least attempted to point out apparent inconsistencies. They have expressed skepticism that improved U.S. missile defense programs could outweigh the vastly reduced size gap between the United States’ and China’s nuclear arsenals, especially in light of Chinese efforts to qualitatively modernize its nuclear weapons.9 These U.S. experts suspect that internal factors—such as China’s assessment of what capabilities are needed to deter a nuclear attack—may be an important contributor to China’s changing threat perceptions. According to interviews by Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel, for example, some Chinese experts have indicated that “China’s criteria for the certainty of retaliation has changed over time.”10

Wu’s research shows that, although China lacked an assured nuclear deterrent in the mid-1980s, Chinese leaders believed then that uncertainty in the minds of the country’s enemies about whether they could totally prevent Chinese nuclear retaliation would sufficiently deter foes from launching a nuclear attack against China. If this characterization of Chinese leaders’ beliefs at the time is correct (and many Chinese experts indeed seem to agree it is), then those views contrast sharply with contemporary Chinese leaders’ unwillingness to rely on an uncertain retaliatory capability and their efforts to gain an assured deterrent, or at least make its deterrence capability less uncertain.

Geopolitical prestige could perhaps explain this shift in part. The reason for this change in Chinese leaders’ views has not been explained publicly, but it is possible that the country’s conception of itself is evolving. As China increasingly self-identifies as a rising great power, it would not be surprising if it also aspires to better guarantee its security with a more certain nuclear retaliatory capability. For instance, China’s paramount leaders in recent decades—including Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi—have all connected China’s nuclear forces with its great power status.11 Most recently, Xi has emphasized the role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force (formerly known as the Second Artillery) as the “cornerstone of China’s strategic deterrent” and the “strategic underpinning of China’s great power status.”12

China could also have military reasons for pursuing a more reliable nuclear deterrent. After following U.S. nuclear strategy deliberations for decades, China’s nuclear policymakers may have decided to seek a more credible and sophisticated means of nuclear retaliation than simply striking back at an enemy with all available nuclear weapons after being struck first. Chinese military planners today may want to make sure that China’s nuclear retaliation would be fine-tuned to achieve preplanned military and political objectives. Success would involve carefully selecting targets according to their military and political significance, as well as developing specific strike plans, which would entail coordinating the launch times and locations of various numbers of missiles under different conflict scenarios.

According to John Lewis and Xue Litai, the PLA started to develop more sophisticated nuclear war plans in the mid-1980s. At an unspecified later time, the PLA’s nuclear retaliation plan consisted of hundreds of nuclear strike options from which decisionmakers could choose.13 As China’s strategy for the contingencies of nuclear retaliation has grown more sophisticated, it is likely that military planners desire a greater number of survivable nuclear weapons so they can give decisionmakers more options.

China’s military also operates under fewer budget constraints than it did in the past. Beijing’s growing requirements for nuclear sufficiency may be related, at least partially, to the greater financial and technological resources now at its disposal. The far more modest standards for a nuclear deterrent that Chinese leaders of the past espoused may have been partly a reflection of their prioritization of economic development and other areas during that era. With more abundant resources today, it should not be surprising if Chinese leaders now feel the need for greater certainty, given how critical strategic deterrence is for the country’s security.

Another relevant factor is that Beijing’s threat perceptions have changed since the 1980s. Chinese leaders’ perceptions of how strong of a nuclear deterrent the country needs may also be a function of how threatening China perceives its security rivals to be. The most widely cited quantitative research on China’s relationships with the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia, conducted by Yan Xuetong and his team at Tsinghua University,14 shows that when China’s nuclear weapons development program was progressing most rapidly in the 1960s, both these diplomatic relationships were at historical low points. But, by the mid-1980s, Beijing’s ties with both Washington and Moscow had significantly improved, potentially prompting Chinese leaders at the time to decide to deploy a small nuclear arsenal.

Events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 abruptly ended a relatively warm period in U.S.-China relations. And, in the decades since, China’s security concerns about the United States have continued to grow, partly as a result of major crises including the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995–1996, the U.S. attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, and the military incident concerning a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane that was forced to land in Hainan after colliding with a Chinese aircraft in 2001. By mid-2018 (the end point of Yan’s research), the bilateral relationship had become much worse than at any other time since the early 1970s—even before the normalization of U.S.-China relations. This negative trend has only accelerated since mid-2018.

As diplomatic ties have grown more contentious, a range of external factors, including changes in the United States’ nuclear policies and posture, has also caused China to become more concerned about the vulnerability of its nuclear deterrent. One important development occurred in 1992 when the U.S. military reincorporated China into its nuclear war planning as a potential target, after having removed it from the list in 1982.15

The shrinking size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has done little to allay China’s fears. Even though Washington has downsized its nuclear arsenal since the peak of the Cold War, Beijing may believe that the United States’ first strike threat against China has actually increased since then. Why would that be when the U.S. nuclear arsenal today is only about 12 percent of its peak Cold War–era size in the 1960s of more than 31,200 warheads?16

After all, the overall numbers have come down considerably. The United States currently deploys 400 silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs with a single warhead on each missile. By contrast, in the mid-1980s, the U.S. military deployed more than 1,000 ICBMs with multiple warheads on each missile.17 The United States has also reduced its stock of deployed SLBMs from more than 600 in the mid-1980s to 240 today.18 Nevertheless, to many Chinese experts, these dramatic reductions have not lessened the nuclear threat to China: they claim, notionally, that rather than being able to wipe out China’s nuclear forces one hundred times over, the United States can still do it ten times over.19 Moreover, China appears to assess that U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs have become more accurate and lethal,20 making them a greater counterforce threat.

As U.S. counterforce capabilities have evolved, Chinese policymakers and experts have also perceived changes in the United States’ willingness to use nuclear weapons against China. For example, Chinese experts are suspicious of U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration’s policy of developing low-yield nuclear weapons, as outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report.21 Beijing sees this decision as the most recent evidence that the United States seeks not only to advance its nuclear warfighting capability but also to deliberately lower the threshold for nuclear use, a U.S. choice driven by the suspected intention of being able “to conduct a preemptive strike.”22 Chinese experts often warn that the nuclear taboo may have eroded since the end of Cold War; if so, this development could further embolden the United States to attempt counterforce strikes.23

Developments in non-nuclear technologies have also significantly heightened Chinese concerns about the counterforce threat that the U.S. military poses. Improvements in U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, including remote sensing and data processing, could greatly enhance the United States’ capacity to conduct counterforce strikes.24 Chinese experts often raise this concern, which may also have contributed to China’s massive investment in the underground Great Wall Project—an extensive tunnel network for protecting Chinese nuclear forces.25 Advanced U.S. conventional precision strike weapons further exacerbate Chinese qualms. If employed in conjunction with U.S. nuclear capabilities, these weapons could make a U.S. counterforce strike against China’s nuclear forces and their supporting infrastructure more likely to succeed.26

In conjunction with these other factors, U.S. missile defense systems are an integral part of these Chinese concerns. After all, the United States could seek to intercept whatever remnants of China’s small nuclear arsenal survived an initial U.S. counterforce strike. The U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s first made China wary about this issue. Then president George W. Bush and his administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 severely exacerbated Chinese concerns. Since then, Chinese academics and government officials alike have widely expressed fears about U.S. missile defense programs.

Ultimately, due to the lack of official documentation about China’s nuclear decisionmaking, it is difficult to understand precisely why China feels necessary to further strengthen its nuclear deterrent. Several questions remain unanswered. What is the balance between internal factors, some of which Chinese experts do not appear to have widely recognized or discussed, and external factors? Among the external factors, how important is China’s general threat perception toward its main security rival compared to that rival’s specific nuclear policies? And, among such policies, how much of an effect does the U.S. development of missile defense systems have on China’s nuclear posture? For U.S. officials and experts, these questions create ambiguity and highlight yet another question: Even if the United States could completely address China’s concerns about U.S. missile defense, how much would that change China’s overall perception that its nuclear deterrent is insufficient and needs to be strengthened?

Which U.S. Missile Defense Capabilities Concern China Most?

The serious concerns that Chinese scholars have widely expressed about U.S. missile defense have been more general than concrete. They have not provided detailed public analysis of what threats U.S. missile defense systems might pose, which Chinese nuclear capabilities would be threatened, and under which conflict scenarios such problems would arise.

Beijing’s nuclear deterrent is a major facet of these calculations. For example, Chinese experts generally focus on the case of Chinese nuclear retaliation against the U.S. homeland after a hypothetical, large-scale U.S. nuclear first strike. But, in the real world, because neither party wishes to start a large-scale nuclear war out of the blue, a U.S.-China nuclear exchange is more likely to take place (at least initially) at the regional/theater level, perhaps as a result of an escalating conventional conflict over key interests along the First Island Chain. This series of archipelagos off the East Asian continental mainland includes the main islands of Japan, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, and the northern Philippines. The First Island Chain encircles some of the key disputed territories that China claims, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, where armed conflicts involving China are most likely to start. Yet Chinese experts have not publicly discussed the impact of U.S. missile defense on the prospect of regional nuclear exchanges in areas near the First Island Chain.

The serious concerns that Chinese scholars have widely expressed about U.S. missile defense have been more general than concrete.

Yet these nuclear qualms often get thrown in with other conventional military considerations. Relevant Chinese literature also voices concerns about the effects of U.S. missile defense systems on China’s conventional military capabilities and on other Chinese security interests. (Chinese experts fear, for instance, that U.S. missile defense could be used to monitor Chinese aircraft movements.) But because these discussions of various threats are often conflated, it becomes difficult to know how significantly U.S. missile defense capabilities contribute to each specific Chinese concern.

To tease out these complexities, it is important to identify and analyze each Chinese concern individually and contextualize which scenarios each of them could arise in. Because China has adopted a no-first-use (NFU) doctrine, in all of the scenarios in which nuclear weapons are used, it is assumed that the United States initiates nuclear use. Despite U.S. suspicions about the credibility of China’s NFU policy, Chinese officials and experts generally regard it as ironclad.27 Since the goal of this analysis is to shed light on China’s threat perceptions, it focuses on scenarios that are realistic from a Chinese perspective. The analysis reveals significant ambiguities in China’s understanding about the nature of the missile defense threat, which constitute an important barrier to constructive bilateral dialogues.

Threats to China’s Second-Strike Capability Against the U.S. Homeland

Especially prominent are Chinese fears that U.S. missile defense systems could threaten Beijing’s capacity to respond to a U.S. nuclear first strike with a retaliatory counterstrike against the U.S. homeland.28 But Chinese discussions about this complex concern are still overly general. Even in a highly simplified model, if the United States were to use nuclear weapons first and China were to decide to strike back against the U.S. homeland, there are four basic scenarios to consider, depending on the scales of the initial (hypothetical) U.S. strike and of China’s desired retaliation (see figure 1). Yet Chinese experts have not discussed these specific scenarios in depth.

Scenario A

In the first of these scenarios, Washington would launch a full nuclear first strike and China’s response would be unrestrained retaliation. If the United States concluded that China were on the verge of using nuclear weapons during an extreme military crisis, Washington might decide to launch a counterforce first strike to try to preemptively disarm Beijing. Chinese analysts are concerned that such a strike would destroy a significant portion of China’s long-range nuclear forces. More than that, they fear that if Beijing decided to launch an all-out retaliatory strike, U.S. strategic missile defense systems could perhaps intercept many, if not all, of the surviving ICBMs and SLBMs it would fire at the U.S. homeland.

China fears that U.S. missile defense systems could threaten Beijing’s capacity to respond to a U.S. nuclear first strike with a retaliatory counterstrike against the U.S. homeland.

Two important issues are usually left unaddressed in most discussions of this scenario, but both are highly relevant to assessing the impact of U.S. missile defense. First, how much damage could an initial U.S. counterforce strike on China’s nuclear forces do? The answer might vary depending on issues such as the extent of the U.S. first strike, whether Chinese road-mobile ICBMs were dispersed when the attack occurred, and whether China was postured to and attempted to retaliate while under attack (that is, if Beijing were to start striking back while the U.S. first strike was still under way). In any case, the more Chinese missiles that were to survive such an attack, the more likely that Chinese retaliatory strikes could penetrate U.S. defenses.

Second, what is the Chinese standard for imposing unacceptable damage on the United States in a nuclear counterstrike? That is, how many nuclear warheads does China believe, at a minimum, it would need to threaten to successfully deliver to the U.S. homeland to deter a U.S. first strike in the first place? The more warheads that Beijing would need to hit U.S. soil to achieve deterrence, the greater the challenge that U.S. missile defense systems pose. Few Chinese leaders have publicly hazarded a guess. Then Chinese leader Mao Zedong reportedly commented in the mid-1960s that the threatened retaliatory delivery of several—even six—Chinese atomic bombs would suffice to deter anyone from attacking China. But since then, there has been no hint of an official answer.29

Some Chinese scholars have speculated on this topic, but it appears that they have reached no general agreement. They assume—without official confirmation—that China has a countervalue targeting posture, which means its nuclear weapons would focus on soft targets like population and industrial centers, as opposed to better protected military installations. Under such conditions, some scholars believe that one guaranteed nuclear warhead would be sufficient to cause unacceptable damage.30 Others have given a range of answers, suggesting “more than one,” “at least ten,” or even much bigger numbers.31 It is unclear whether Chinese decisionmakers have a clear criterion in mind.

Additionally, Beijing’s retaliation strategy makes a difference since it can be adjusted in hopes of minimizing the impact of missile defense. For example, China could plan for its surviving weapons to all reach their target (or targets) at around the same time but from different directions, seeking to overwhelm U.S. missile defense systems.

Ultimately, an informed attempt to gauge the threat that U.S. missile defense systems pose to China’s deterrent would be impossible unless these points are clarified and are factored into the discussion. Admittedly, no other nuclear-armed state talks openly about every element of its nuclear policies, including its assessments of weapon survivability, definition of unacceptable damage, or specific retaliation strategies. But China has not shown that its evaluation of the missile defense threat is based on consistent technical or otherwise objective criteria.

Chinese experts have not thoroughly analyzed and discussed these issues, at least publicly. Such analysis would help ensure that Chinese decisionmaking is based on a sound, objective understanding of the impact of U.S. missile defense. It is important to discuss these issues openly and thoroughly, although the final decisions would not necessarily have to be made public if deemed too sensitive. For the United States, knowing that China’s threat perceptions are not driven by conscious and subconscious exaggerations or by political and ideological bias would help build confidence for constructive dialogue. But that is not the only scenario that must be considered.

Scenario B

Alternatively, China could respond to a sweeping U.S. nuclear first strike in a limited fashion instead of all-out retaliation. If an initial U.S. counterforce strike destroyed a significant portion of China’s long-range nuclear forces, Beijing might decide to launch a limited form of nuclear retaliation against the U.S. homeland. Such a restrained response might not be China’s preferred option but neither would it be all that unlikely. Such a response would better equip Chinese leaders to manage further escalation, compared to all-out nuclear retaliation, by preserving some Chinese nuclear weapons as a further deterrent against a subsequent U.S. response to the Chinese retaliatory strike.

In this instance, the impact of U.S. missile defense systems would be greater than in scenario A. If Beijing were to decide to retaliate with far fewer missiles, more U.S. interceptors could be aimed at each incoming Chinese missile, and they would be more likely to take down the Chinese missiles before they reached their targets. Under the circumstances, China should be particularly concerned that U.S. missile defense could preclude Beijing from opting for this important retaliation option. But so far this contingency has prompted surprisingly little discussion, even among scholars, raising questions about the depth and limits of China’s discussions on these issues.

Scenario C

Another possible contingency is that the United States could launch a limited nuclear attack on China during a military crisis, prompting Beijing to decide to launch all-out nuclear retaliation against the U.S. homeland. Such a hypothetical U.S. strike might occur during a serious conventional war with China and would be intended to deter Beijing from further escalation, or it might result from a (mis)judgment that China were about to launch a limited nuclear strike. This type of U.S. strike could involve a single warning shot or a small number of nuclear weapons.

All-out Chinese retaliation would be a possible response according to the country’s nuclear doctrine, which emphasizes the need to meet any nuclear attacks with retaliation that would cause unbearable consequences for the original attacker.32 This policy aims at enhancing Chinese deterrence, but it also creates ambiguity about how China would realistically respond to a rival’s limited nuclear attack. If Beijing were to retaliate without restraint, the majority of its long-range ballistic missiles would still be available for use, severely complicating the task of U.S. missile defense systems. The impact of U.S. missile defense on China’s retaliatory capability would, therefore, be relatively low, compared with the other scenarios.

Scenario D

Alternatively, China might opt for a limited nuclear response to a limited U.S. strike. In this case, Beijing would still have a significant number of surviving long-range missiles, but—because its counterattack would be limited in such a situation—it could be harder for them to penetrate U.S. missile defense systems. In other words, the impact of U.S. strategic missile defense on China’s nuclear retaliation would be relatively high.

Clearly, then, the potential impact of U.S. missile defense systems on China’s nuclear retaliatory capability against the U.S. homeland would vary considerably depending on the scenario. Yet Chinese public discussions tend to focus heavily on the first scenario—all-out retaliation in response to a U.S. first strike. These conversations have not thoroughly examined the other possibilities, some of which are more likely to occur under real-world conditions. Moreover, in two of the other scenarios—those in which China would respond in a limited way—the potential impact of U.S. missile defense systems could be more severe.

These dynamics have implications for the United States too. As China’s nuclear strategy develops and becomes more focused on the problem of escalation management, Beijing may see limited nuclear retaliation as an increasingly attractive option. However, if China realizes that U.S. missile defense capabilities would likely prove more effective at intercepting limited retaliatory strikes, Beijing may feel pressured to resort to massive or all-out retaliation. This negative potential impact on escalation control should provide another incentive for the United States and China to work to mitigate their dispute over missile defense.

Threats to China’s Second-Strike Capability Against U.S. Regional Targets

Although the threat that U.S. strategic missile defense poses to China’s ability to strike back with nuclear weapons against the U.S. homeland has drawn the most attention, it is not the only threat. In fact, the impact of U.S. theater missile defense systems on China’s ability to attack regional U.S. targets could prove to be a more realistic threat.

China has deployed various types of theater-level nuclear forces. The targets probably include U.S. military bases in East Asia and its overseas territory of Guam. According to U.S. defense and intelligence agencies,33 China has deployed DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), some of which are nuclear-capable, and dual-capable DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). It is possible, though unlikely, that Beijing has also fielded a nuclear version of DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).34 One or two types of Chinese cruise missiles may also be nuclear-capable.35 For example, the CJ-20 air-launched land-attack cruise missile (LACM) has a reported range of 1,500–2,000 kilometers,36 which would allow it to reach Guam and beyond if launched from China’s H-6 bomber.

A nuclear exchange between the United States and China most likely would result from a serious conventional conflict over core security interests. Such a conflict is most likely to start with a dispute over territory within or along the First Island Chain. If the United States were to attack Chinese regional forces with nuclear weapons, Beijing might respond against U.S. regional targets to try to avoid all-out escalation.

If that happened, U.S. theater missile defense systems in the Asia-Pacific could affect China’s ability to respond appropriately to a U.S. nuclear attack. Four basic attack-retaliation scenarios, similar to those for strategic nuclear exchanges outlined above, could arise. The United States might choose to launch a comprehensive counterforce first strike or a limited strike against China’s theater-level nuclear forces. China, meanwhile, might choose either to retaliate against U.S. regional targets with all its surviving theater-level nuclear weapons or to strike back in a limited way with fewer theater-level nuclear weapons.

The impact of U.S. theater missile defense systems on China’s ability to attack regional U.S. targets could prove to be a more realistic threat.

The relative impact of U.S. theater missile defense systems across the four scenarios would be similar to the strategic outcomes illustrated in figure 1. Once again, the effects would be greatest if China sought to respond with limited strikes. With that said, one important difference is that U.S. theater missile defense systems have performed significantly better in testing than U.S. strategic missile defense systems, so the former may be more effective. This indicates that the impact of U.S. theater missile defense capabilities on China’s ability to engage in regional nuclear retaliation may be more significant than the impact of U.S. strategic missile defense systems on China’s ability to strike the U.S. homeland.

Despite these considerations, Chinese experts have not discussed the relationship between U.S. theater missile defense systems and China’s regional nuclear retaliatory capabilities very much. The lack of such discussion is surprising given that a regional U.S.-China nuclear exchange may be more likely to happen than (or at least occur earlier than) a strategic-level exchange.

There are several possible reasons for this omission. First, while it may recognize that its regional nuclear deterrent would be more threatened than its strategic deterrent, Beijing may not want to voice this concern openly to avoid drawing attention to specific details about its nuclear thinking and planning. Specifically, Chinese nuclear retaliation against U.S. military bases in allied countries may contradict Beijing’s negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapons states (that China would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against them).37

A second possible explanation is that the Chinese government understands the threat to its regional nuclear deterrent but does not think the issue is important enough to discuss publicly. It is a traditional Chinese view that nuclear war cannot be controlled or limited; once a nuclear conflict starts, it would be difficult to avoid all-out escalation.38 This view would militate against paying much attention to managing escalation in a regional nuclear conflict.39 In any case, it appears that Chinese experts have been largely preoccupied with understanding strategic nuclear exchanges and simply have not systematically studied regional exchanges. If that is true, this again would reveal the need for Chinese experts to conduct thorough, substantive research on the regional impact of missile defense.

Threats to China’s Conventional Missile Strike Capabilities

Yet another ambiguity pertains to the impact of U.S. theater missile defense on China’s conventional missile strike capabilities. Some Chinese experts express serious misgivings on this score, and many of them tend to believe that a nuclear conflict with the United States is very unlikely.40 That being the case, Chinese experts may believe that U.S. missile defense systems would have a greater impact on Chinese conventional (rather than nuclear) capabilities.41 The United States’ open acknowledgment that it seeks to undermine Chinese conventional missiles as opposed to Beijing’s nuclear second-strike capabilities may heighten these threat perceptions.42 After all, China deploys far more conventional than nuclear missiles. In addition to dual-capable DF-26 IRBMs, Beijing possesses approximately 150–450 conventional MRBMs and about 750–1,500 SRBMs.43 China also “fields approximately 270–540 ground-launched LACMs for standoff precision strikes.”44

This is not a trivial point because Beijing’s conventional missiles are foundational to its national security. Because China lacks advanced air and naval capabilities, compared to the United States and its allies, it has little choice but to rely heavily on any asymmetric advantages it can derive from its land-based conventional missile forces.45 Accordingly, these conventional missiles are critically important for defending China’s perceived security interests. They would play a key role in winning possible military conflicts with Taiwan, Japan, and other actors with territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as in deterring military intervention by external players, particularly the United States.

Chinese experts may believe that U.S. missile defense systems would have a greater impact on Chinese conventional (rather than nuclear) capabilities.

The concerns Chinese experts have expressed on this front are general: if U.S. theater missile defense capabilities undermine China’s conventional deterrent, the United States and its allies and partners would arguably be “emboldened.”46 Specifically, these experts worry that if Japan and Taiwan are protected from Chinese conventional missile strikes, they may take unacceptably aggressive political positions in important disputes with China, thus forcing Beijing to respond militarily. Similarly, in the event of a crisis, being shielded from Chinese conventional weapons may make these actors more likely to conduct preemptive military attacks.47 In practice, whether regional U.S. allies or partners would behave more aggressively as a result of their cooperation with the United States on theater missile defense is questionable, given that China is widening its conventional military edge over these actors.

Nonetheless, many Chinese strategists think that resolving disputes over Taiwan and territory in the South and East China Seas will require China to acquire sufficient regional military superiority over the United States and its allies. Such superiority would entail that Beijing could deter the United States from intervening militarily and force other regional players to accept Chinese leaders’ terms. While China generally believes that time is on its side in securing these key interests, the development and deployment of U.S. theater missile defense systems could cast doubt on and seriously disrupt such plans.

But this general concern lacks detailed, open-source analysis and evidence of the exact impact of U.S. theater missile defense systems on China’s conventional strike capabilities. It is difficult to determine, therefore, if Beijing regards this threat as more consequential than the threat to its nuclear deterrent. At the same time, this concern still contributes significantly to China’s overall threat perception toward U.S. missile defense systems.

Threats to Other Chinese Security Interests

Finally, many Chinese experts worry that the increasingly advanced missile defense radars that the United States and its allies and partners have deployed in the Asia-Pacific gravely threaten China’s airspace security. The general logic of their argument is that those radars can look deeply into Chinese territory and therefore help the United States obtain better situational awareness of military and civilian activities in Chinese airspace.

For example, Chinese military and civilian experts have argued that the AN/TPY-2 radar associated with the THAAD missile defense system deployed in South Korea puts Chinese security interests at risk. They argue that the United States could use it to “obtain information on all airspace activities in Eastern China and Eastern Russia in real time,” “including the takeoffs and landings of all military and civilian aircrafts”; based on this logic, it would “significantly enhance U.S. military capabilities in East Asia and [around] the world.”48 Some analysts go even further and claim that the THAAD radar is able to “see the hinterlands of China and Russia and even . . . Central Asia.”49 With the United States and its partners likely to introduce even more advanced, longer-range, and more discriminating radars, such as the Long Range Discrimination Radar, to this region in the future, Chinese concerns are likely to grow.

For several reasons, such concerns are technically flawed. First, the range of the AN/TPY-2 radar in South Korea is too short to detect relatively small targets (such as missile warheads) over the hinterlands of China and Russia, let alone Central Asia.50 Second, due to the curvature of the earth, radars for theater missile defense systems generally cannot monitor aircraft movements in even eastern China, let alone further afield. Over-the-horizon radars could do so to some extent, but the United States has not deployed such radars in the Asia-Pacific. Third, even if the AN/TPY-2 radar in South Korea could observe some Chinese airspace activities over certain parts of China, there is no evidence that this would provide much better surveillance than the United States’ and its allies’ existing sensor networks, which include satellites and air-defense radars on various existing military platforms.

It is possible that these misunderstandings are caused, at least in part, by growing Chinese nationalism, such as in the case of the THAAD dispute, which may make technical experts unwilling to publicly or privately challenge mainstream popular views. Whatever the cause, more rigorous analysis on this issue would help clarify some of the existing ambiguity about the actual impact of U.S. missile defense systems.

Is China Worried About Concrete Military Threats or Geopolitics?

Many Chinese experts take it for granted that the United States is intent on harming China, and some of them insist that the strategic and geopolitical implications of U.S. missile defenses are more important than their technical military impact. After all, not all Chinese experts agree that U.S. missile defense poses a serious and direct military threat to China. Some senior experts, such as Zou Zhibo at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, have concluded that these missile defense systems have important technical limitations and significant vulnerabilities that China could exploit (by, for example, attacking their radars and command-and-control systems preemptively).51 Still, experts like Zou believe that the strategic and geopolitical implications of U.S. missile defense shed light on the United States’ true intentions and could still have a profound impact (by enhancing U.S. regional alliances) despite any technical limitations. Zou, for instance, argues that “we should not overestimate the real military effectiveness of them, otherwise we would overlook the real strategic intentions behind the missile defense systems.”52

Such conflation of technical and strategic concerns creates ambiguity and confusion. Specifically, it can be unclear whether China’s opposition to any given missile defense deployment by its rivals is driven by specific military concerns or by more amorphous geopolitical qualms. Technically grounded military objections are likely easier to tackle than geopolitical misgivings, which relate to the deep strategic distrust between China and the United States. This form of ambiguity was on full display during the THAAD dispute of 2016. This dispute left the United States and South Korea unsure whether China’s opposition is primarily driven by technical concerns that the AN/TPY-2 radar could potentially track Chinese ICBMs or by vaguer geopolitical concerns, including the strengthening of the U.S.-ROK alliance.

In geostrategic terms, China is concerned that missile defense cooperation between the United States and its allies could strengthen the U.S. alliance system in East Asia. China’s 2017 national defense white paper, for example, states Beijing’s opposition to countries who use missile defense to “build Cold War style military alliance[s].”53 At present, key U.S. allies—including Australia, Japan, and South Korea—purchase and operate U.S. missile defense systems.54 The United States also deploys its own interceptors and radars in the region.

To maximize the effectiveness of these various systems, the United States and its allies and partners have sought to make them more interoperable and integrate them into a networked missile defense architecture for “common protection, deterrence and assurance.”55 Chinese experts worry that these efforts will predispose the allies toward greater overall military integration. They could, in the words of one scholar, have a “self-reinforcing snowballing effect” on enhancing the U.S. alliance system.56

For many Chinese experts, the U.S. alliance system in the Asia-Pacific is driven by a “Cold War mentality” of containment and confrontation that represents a fundamental threat to regional stability.57 Therefore such experts view any activities that could strengthen these alliances with the utmost concern. These experts are especially alarmed because they believe that U.S. missile defense cooperation with Japan and South Korea not only helps upgrade the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK bilateral relationships but also will catalyze the formation of a trilateral U.S.-Japan-ROK alliance, a possibility that China strongly opposes. They worry that U.S. efforts to integrate allied systems at the operational level—connecting sensors, sharing data, and making command-and-control systems interoperable—will inevitably lead the partners to create a joint missile defense network and thus lay a technical foundation for a multilateral alliance.58

Missile defense deployments, some Chinese experts suspect, will help the United States tighten leverage over its allies in other ways. According to this view, the United States uses such deployments to deliberately exacerbate tensions between its allies and countries like China, Russia, and North Korea; the idea is that Washington aims to provoke military reactions from these rivals to make its allies more inclined to strengthen their alliances with the United States and discourage them from becoming more autonomous.59 Interestingly, this view seems to be most popular among Chinese generalists who study foreign policy and security issues. By contrast, Chinese scholars with specific expertise in U.S.-China nuclear relations seem to be more skeptical of such claims.60

Missile defense deployments, some Chinese experts suspect, will help the United States tighten leverage over its allies in other ways.

Another Chinese concern is that the United States is investing in research and development on missile defense to widen its lead in cutting-edge technologies over China, thus leaving Beijing less capable of competing geopolitically over the long run. Many Chinese experts believe that missile defense systems rely on a unique set of technological advances that provides considerable positive spillover effects with other military and civilian applications. They point to the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s and conclude that U.S. investments during that period played an important role in securing the United States’ lead in various important areas, including computers, lasers, microelectronics, new materials, and aerospace technologies.61

This concern, though, is less pressing than other concerns about missile defense. Given its relatively high economic growth rate, China is well positioned to engage in a long-term competition with the United States over advanced technology. That said, China’s strategic community has not thoroughly examined whether or to what extent the United States’ development of missile defense systems has been motivated by the pursuit of a general technological edge. There also has been little analysis about whether investments in missile defense programs are uniquely useful for this purpose.

It is telling, perhaps, that Chinese experts have identified a wide range of other military technologies, including hypersonic and nuclear weapons, as also being particularly useful for advancing a country’s overall technological competitiveness.62 Without robust comparative analysis, it remains unclear how much such general arguments reflect true understandings about the strategic implications of these technological sectors as opposed to the parochial interests of different stakeholders in the Chinese defense industry competing for shares of government investment.

Finally, Chinese analysts often sound warnings that the United States seeks to use missile defense to overburden China and force Beijing into a costly arms race.63 Chinese experts claim that the United States used the Strategic Defense Initiative to draw the Soviet Union into an arms race that ultimately contributed to the Soviet collapse.64 They now worry that China is so concerned about its missile capabilities that it will make major investments to ensure their effectiveness against U.S. targets if there is even uncertainty about the threat that U.S. missile defense systems pose. These experts also predict arms races with Japan and Taiwan, depending on what missile defense capabilities they acquire from the United States.65

This concern reveals another ambiguity in Chinese thinking about missile defense: its view of the offense-defense balance. Those who worry that the United States seeks to deliberately stoke an arms race seem to believe this competition is defense dominant—meaning that it would be more expensive for China to build missiles than for the United States to build interceptors. By contrast, other experts argue that the easiest and cheapest way to defeat missile defense systems is to build up offensive capabilities.66 According to the latter view, it would be self-defeating for the United States to deliberately draw itself into an arms race by building missile defense systems. These contrasting views show that Chinese experts have reached no clear consensus on U.S. motivations for deploying missile defenses.

To sum up, China’s threat perceptions about U.S. missile defense center on three main elements of ambiguity: to what extent U.S. missile defense contributes to China’s perceived need to strengthen its nuclear deterrent; how China’s threat perceptions vary across conflict scenarios; and to what extent China can distinguish its concerns of specific technical military threats from vaguer and more abstract geopolitical misgivings. Chinese strategists must discuss these matters more thoroughly. A clearer understanding of these issues is necessary for the United States and China to hold a constructive dialogue on missile defense.


1 Wu Riqiang (吴日强), “Dim Hope for Disarmament and Approaching Risk of Build-Up,” in Nuclear Disarmament: A Critical Assessment, edited by Bård Nikolas Vik Steen and Olav Njølstad (New York: Routledge, 2019), 236.

2 Li Bin (李彬) and Nie Hongyi (聂宏毅), “中美战略稳定性的考察” [A study of Sino-U.S. strategic stability], World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) no. 2, (2008): 13–19; Sun Xiangli (孙向丽), “中国军控的新挑战与新议程” [New challenges and new agenda for China’s arms control], Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论) no. 3 (2010): 10–21; and Wu Riqiang (吴日强), “国亚太反导系统对中国安全的影响及中国的对策” [Impact of U.S. missile defense systems in Asia-Pacific on Chinese security and possible Chinese countermeasures] China International Strategic Review 2014 (中国国际战略评论2014), 2014, 331–348.

3 Wu Riqiang (吴日强), “China’s Anxiety About U.S. Missile Defense: A Solution,” Survival 55, no. 5 (2013): 40.

4 Wu Riqiang (吴日强), “Certainty of Uncertainty: Nuclear Strategy With Chinese Characteristics,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 4 (2013): 579–614.

5 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 66, no. 4 (2010): 77–83,

6 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, 2020.

7 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2019.”

8 “社评:加强战略核力量,中国不可患得患失” [Editorial: Strengthen strategic nuclear capability: China must not hesitate], Global Times (环球时报), December 23, 2016,,; Han Kedi (韩克敌), “美俄中导条约之争与中国之处境” [U.S.-Russia INF disputes and China’s security situation], Strategic Decisionmaking Review (战略决策研究) 9, no. 6 (2018): 46–67; Li and Yang, [Overseas examples of building the strategic pillar of national security]; Shen Dingli (沈丁立), “沈丁立:改善核威慑,吓阻对我主权挑衅)” [Shen Dingli: Improve nuclear deterrent: prevent provocations against our sovereignty], Global Times (环球时报), August 2, 2013; Wang Jiurong (王久荣), “奋力推进战略导弹部队建设” [Strive to advance the construction of the strategic missile force], PLA Daily (解放军报), April 2, 2014, 6; and Xi Yazhou (席亚洲), “中国核潜艇‘国之重器,要大发展’”

[China’s nuclear submarines are nation’s key instrument and need massive development], Guancha (观察者), June 17, 2018.

9 Private discussions with U.S. nuclear policy experts, spring 2019, United States.

10 Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel, “Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and US-China Strategic Stability,” International Security 40, no. 2 (2015): 26–27.

11 Jing Zhiyuan (靖志远) and Peng Xiaofeng (彭小枫), “建设中国特色战略导弹部队” [Building a strategic missile force with Chinese characteristics], Qiushi (求是), no. 3, 53–55; Jing Zhiyuan (靖志远) and Zhang Haiyang (张海阳), “党领导战略导弹部队建设发展的历史经验” [The party’s historical experience in leading the construction and development of the strategic missile forces], People’s Daily (人民日报), June 8, 2011, 8; Li Baotang (李宝堂), “绽放鲜花的大漠” [The desert in bloom], PLA Daily (解放军报), April 24, 2020, 12.

12 Wang Shibin (王士彬) and An Puzhong (安普忠), “习近平向中国人民解放军陆军火箭军战略支援部队授予军旗并致训词” [Xi Jinping awards military flag and delivers a speech to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, Chinese Ministry of National Defense,

13 John W. Lewis and Litai Xue, “Making China’s Nuclear War Plan,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 5 (2012): 59–60.

14 “Data of the China–Soviet Union/Russian Relationship, 1950–May 2018,” Tsinghua University Institute of International Relations,; and “Data of the China-U.S. Relationship, 1950–May 2018,” Tsinghua University Institute of International Relations,

15 Hans M. Kristensen, et al., “Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning,” Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, 2006.

16 Norris and Kristensen, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2010.”

17 William M. Arkin and Robert S. Norris, Taking Stock: U.S. Nuclear Deployments at the End of the Cold War (Revision 1), (Washington, DC: Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, 1992).

18 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 75, no. 3 (2019): 122–134,; and Robert S. Norris and Thomas B. Cochran, “US-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945–1996,” Natural Resources Defense Council, 1997.

19 Private conversations with Chinese experts, fall 2019.

20 Hans M. Kristensen, et al., “How US Nuclear Force Modernization Is Undermining Strategic Stability: The Burst-Height Compensating Super-Fuze,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1, 2017.

21 U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review (Washington DC, U.S. Department of Defense, February 2018).

22 Li Xianrong (李显荣) and Yang Min (杨敏), “美国将进一步强化核实战能力” [US will further enhance nuclear warfighting capability], PLA Daily (解放军报), March 1, 2018, 11.

23 Jiang Tianjiao (江天骄), “再论核禁忌” [A further discussion on the nuclear taboo], Journal of International Security Studies (国际安全研究) no. 1 (2018): 89–106, 159; and Li and Nie, [A study of Sino-U.S. strategic stability].

24 Li Bin, “Tracking Chinese Strategic Mobile Missiles,” Science and Global Security no. 15 (2007): 1–30; Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 9–49; Kier A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “U.S. Nuclear Primacy and the Future of the Chinese Deterrent,” China Security (Winter 2007): 66–89; and Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce, and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015): 38–73.

25 For more about the underground Great Wall Project, see Tong Zhao, “Conventional Counterforce Strike: An Option for Damage Limitation in Conflicts With Nuclear-Armed Adversaries?” Science and Global Security 19, no. 3 (2011): 195–222.

26 Michael O. Wheeler, “Track 1.5/2 Security Dialogues With China: Nuclear Lessons Learned,” Institute for Defense Analyses, September 2014.

27 Pan Zhenqiang, “China’s No First Use of Nuclear Weapons,” in Understanding Chinese Nuclear Thinking, edited by Li Bin and Tong Zhao, (Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2016), 51–78.

28 Li Bin (李彬) and Hu Gaochen (胡高辰), “美国视阈中的中国核威慑有效性” [U.S. views on the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent], Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论) no. 5 (2018): 21–41; Xiao Yueyue (肖岳月), “美国陆基中段反导瞄准谁?” [Who does U.S. land-based mid-course missile defense aim at?], Tank and Armored Vehicle (坦克装甲车辆) no. 14 (2017): 8–10; Yan Xuetong (阎学通), “战区导弹防御系统与东北亚安全” [Theater missile defense systems and Northeast Asian security] International Economic Review (国际经济评论) no. 4 (2000): 25; and Fan Jishe (樊吉社), “中国核政策的基本逻辑与前景” [The basic logic and future prospects of China’s nuclear policy], Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论(外交学院学报)) no. 5 (2018): 19.

29 Richard Nixon, Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978), 557.

30 Chinese scholars expressed these views at the following international conference. “Assessing the International Nuclear Agenda,” University of International Relations, Beijing, China, June 15–18, 2017.

31 Cunningham and Fravel, “Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and US-China Strategic Stability.”

32 Peng Guangqian (彭光谦), “彭光谦:中国“不首先使用核武”的底气在哪” [Why is China confident about no first use of nuclear weapons?], Global Times (环球时报), February 28, 2018.

33 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019, (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, May 2, 2019); and Defense Intelligence Agency, Global Nuclear Landscape 2018, (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2018).

34 Kristensen and Korda, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2019,” 289–295.

35 U.S. Department of Defense, “Global Nuclear Capability Modernization: Global Nuclear-Capable Delivery Vehicles,” February 2018,

36 “Land-Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM) - Variants,”,

37 “Statement on Security Assurances for Non-Nuclear-Weapon States by H. E. Mr. Cheng Jingye, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs of China at the Plenary of the Conference on Disarmament,” Chinese Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Other International Organizations in Switzerland, August 3, 2006,

38 Lu Yin (鹿音), “面对美国新核态势审议 中国更应保持政策与力量自信” [China needs to maintain confidence in policy and capability, facing new U.S. NPR report], Xinhua News Agency (新华社), February 7, 2018.

39 Admittedly, this raises the question of why China bothers developing regional nuclear forces in the first place. More transparency on China’s nuclear thinking could help address such questions.

40 Li Bin (李彬), “中国核战略辨析” [China’s nuclear strategy], World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) no. 9 (2006): 14, 16–22; and Yan Xuetong (阎学通), “对中国安全环境的分析与思考” [Analysis and thoughts on China’s security environment], World Economics and Politics no. 2 (2000): 5–10.

41 Liu Chong (刘冲), “美国酝酿在韩部署‘萨德’系统问题辨析” [Analysis on U.S. plan to deploy THAAD system in South Korea] Contemporary International Relations (现代国际关系) no. 5 (2015): 13–22.

42 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary, Missile Defense Review Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2019).

43 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019.

44 Ibid.

45 Wu, “China’s Calculus After the INF Treaty,” East Asia Forum, May 2019.

46 Liu, [Analysis on U.S. plan to deploy THAAD system in South Korea]; and Zhang Qingmin (张清敏), “导弹防御体系与二十一世纪亚太格局——一个历史的视角” [Missile defense systems and the twenty-first century Asia-Pacific landscape: a historical perspective], International Forum (国际论坛) 2, no. 2 (2000): 13–20.

47 Yan, [Theater missile defense systems and Northeast Asian security], 59–64.

48 Shen Dingli (沈丁立), “‘萨德’入韩撬动地区安全格局”

[Deployment of THAAD in South Korea shifts regional security landscape], Xinmin Evening News (新民晚报), July 25, 2016, B10.

49 Gong Chunke (宫春科), “警惕‘萨德’导弹防御系统的偷窥之眼” [Be alert about the spying eyes of the THAAD missile defense system], Tank and Armored Vehicle (坦克装甲车辆) no. 8 (2016): 43–44.

50 Jaganath Sankaran and Bryan Leo Fearey, “Missile Defense and Strategic Stability: Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea,” Los Alamos National Laboratory, 2017.

51 Zou Zhibo (邹治波), “美国谋求在韩部署‘萨德’系统的战略意涵” [Strategic intentions of the United States in seeking the deployment of THAAD system in South Korea], Contemporary World (当代世界) no. 4 (2016): 26–28.

52 Ibid.

53 State Council Information Office, “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation,” China Daily, January 12, 2017,

54 Taiwan also operates missile defense systems from the United States, although it is technically not a U.S. ally.

55 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary, Missile Defense Review Report, 2019.

56 An Yukang (安雨康), “论导弹防御对美国亚太军事同盟的影响” [The impact of missile defense on the U.S. military alliances in the Asia-Pacific], Institute of International Relations (国际关系学院), 2018.

57 Mu Xiaoming (慕小明), “美日韩军事结盟是危害东北亚安全的‘毒剂’” [U.S.-Japan-ROK military alliance is poison pill for Northeast Asian security], Xinhua News Network (新华网),; and Yang Yang (杨扬), “日美同盟的调整与中国外交的战略选择” [Readjustment of the Japan-U.S. alliance and strategic choices for Chinese diplomacy] Journal of the University of International Relations (国际关系学院学报) 1, no. 3 (2008): 37–42.

58 Ni Haining (倪海宁) and Cui Yuming (崔宇明), “解码‘萨德’美国编织亚太反导网” [Decoding THAAD: U.S. weaving an Asia-Pacific missile defense network], PLA Daily, February 26, 2016, 7; and Pang Zhihui (庞祉慧) and Zhang Wenjiang (张文江), “不只‘萨德’:美韩反导合作的多元进展” [Progress of missile defense cooperation between the United States and the ROK], Contemporary Korea (当代韩国) no. 4 (2018): 14–29.

59 An, [The impact of missile defense on the U.S. military alliances in the Asia-Pacific].

60 Based on the author’s conversations with other Chinese experts in the field.

61 Xia Liping (夏立平), “导弹防御与美国亚太安全战略” [Missile defense and U.S. Asia-Pacific security strategy], Pacific Journal (太平洋学报) no. 4 (2003): 15–24.

62 Zhang Ruizhuang (张睿壮), “‘沉着应对’ 与‘自废武功’ —就如何应对美国国家导弹防御计划同时殷弘先生商榷” [‘Calmly respond’ and ‘self-disarmament’: a response to Mr. Shi Yinhong on how to deal with the U.S. national missile defense plan], World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治) no. 1 (2002): 68–72.

63 Fu Ying (付英), “TMD与中国国家安全” [TMD and China’s national security], Journal of the Party School of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps of the Chinese Communist Party (兵团党校学报) no. 5 (2001): 58–60; and Hu Wei (胡巍), “美国的东亚战区导弹防御系统对中国国家安全的影响” [Impact of the U.S. theater missile defense system in East Asia on China’s national security], Northeastern University (东北大学), 2008.

64 Duan Baojun (段宝君), “美国战区导弹防御计划之我见” [Analysis on the U.S. theater missile defense plan], Modern Military (现代军事) no. 4 (2000): 17–18.

65 Hu, [Impact of the U.S. theater missile defense system in East Asia on China’s national security]; and Yan, [Theater missile defense systems and Northeast Asian security].

66 Wu Riqiang (吴日强), “中美如何避免核军备竞赛” [How to avoid a China-U.S. nuclear arms race] Contemporary American Review (当代美国评论) no. 2 (2017): 39–60; and Xu Nengwu (徐能武), “空间政治学:政治文明新高地的复合建构之道” [Space politics: the integrative construction of a new high ground in political civilization], (Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press (中国社会科学出版社), 2015).