China’s Underground Nuclear Great Wall
In early December, the People’s Liberation Army's (PLA) publication, China Defense Daily (Zhongguo Guofang Bao), published a report that
provided a rare glimpse into an underground tunnel that is being built by the Second Artillery Corps (SAC)—the PLA's strategic missile forces—in
the mountainous regions of Hebei Province in northern China. The network of tunnels reportedly stretches for more than 3,107 miles (Ta Kung Pao,
December 11; Xinhua News Agency, December 14). The revelation of the semi-underground tunnel highlights the strides being made by China's nuclear
modernization efforts, and underscores a changing deterrent relationship between the United States and China.
The labyrinthine tunnel system, dubbed by the Chinese-media as the "Underground Great Wall” (Dixia Changcheng), was built for concealing,
mobilizing and deploying China's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. According to military experts cited by various reports, the main purpose of the
underground tunnel is to provide the SAC with a credible second-strike capability. The building of an underground tunnel for this purpose is
consistent with China's evolving nuclear doctrine from its traditional posture of "minimum deterrence" to a doctrine of "limited deterrence,"
since the subterranean bunkers strengthen the survivability of China's nuclear forces and bolster its nuclear deterrence posture.
Analysts have long speculated that the SAC' most important underground missile positions were located in the mountainous area in northern China. The
geography of this region is cut by steep cliffs and canyons, and therefore suited for use in covering the network of tunnels that is 3,017 miles and
can feed a web of underground launch silos. According to a military analyst cited by Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao, "the outermost layer is 1,000
meters [3,280 feet] deep and covered with soil that does not include any artificial reinforcements" (Ta Kung Pao, December 11; Xinhua News Agency,
December 14). Moreover, the Chinese reports described the tunnel system in terms of "hard and deeply buried targets" (HDBTs), which typically refers
to facilities a few hundred feet deep in "underground installations." In the case of strategic nuclear missiles, it would mean that all preparations
can be completed underground, and the transportation of missiles, equipments and personnel through a network of underground corridors by rail cars or
heavy-duty trailers to fixed launch sites can not be detected from observations on the ground (Ta Kung Pao, December 11; News.sina.com, December 13;
Xinhua News Agency, December 14).
Many of the comments I read seemed concerned about this, but I disagree.
A nuclear capable country will be less likely to use them for a first strike if significant portion of their arsenal has a high probability of
surviving an enemy first strike. Part of the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine is that during a nuclear exchange, both parties are
essentially destroyed. If one of the party’s nuclear response capability cannot withstand a first strike, the puts them at a significant
disadvantage and makes them more likely to launch first as they wont have the capability to retaliate.
Considering China has been at war with both India and Russia recently and both of these nations are nuclear powers, it was only a matter of time
before China invested in this kind of defense.
Still, some have speculated that with a complex like this China could secretly deploy far more weapons than it public admits to surpassing both Russia
and the United states as the latest round of the START treaty comes into play.