<– Back to Global Cooperation

<– Back to Nuclear Weapons Countries

Jump To: Nuclear Weapons ~ Climate

Nuclear Weapons

China is a very different story from Russia. It’s not clear why China has nuclear weapons at all, except as a hedge against an attack by the United States. China’s nuclear weapons are kept in storage, not deployed like US or Russian nuclear weapons. They are not on hair-trigger alert. China has a No First Use policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping has said on many occasions that he supports the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.[1]  And as far as we know, China has only around 400 nuclear warheads compared to 5,200 in the US and 5,900 in Russia.[2]

Nevertheless, China is also reputedly building a large number of nuclear missile sites, and according to reports has added around 60 nuclear warheads to its arsenal in the last year.[3] Even if all the new missile sites are fitted with new nuclear missiles (which there is no evidence as yet to suggest), China’s nuclear arsenal would still be a fraction of the size of the US or Russia’s. But it also fits the scenario currently being played out in the United States which calls for war with China in the coming years.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the US seem hell-bent on war with China.[4] This again is a doomsday scenario, but from the perspective of China it is clearly ringing alarm bells. Like Russia, China also needs to feel secure from a potential attack by the United States. And as long as China does not feel secure, the US won’t be secure either.

Unlike the situation with Russia, if the US were to sign the TPNW, that would almost certainly elicit a positive response from China. Unlike Russia, China does not fear a conventional attack from the United States. China, with almost 1.5 billion people, does not need to worry about the balance of conventional forces, despite the fact that their forces may be technologically inferior to those of the United States.

But they certainly are increasingly worried about a nuclear attack, especially given that their own nuclear weapons are not deployed and not on alert. Would the US government be stupid enough to launch a major nuclear assault on China in order to destroy their nuclear capability? China doesn’t have any reason to believe that such an assault is out of the realm of possibility.

Therefore, if the US were to signal definitively that they are ready to eliminate their nuclear weapons by signing the TPNW, would China join them? The answer is likely yes. But we’ll never know unless the US does sign the TPNW. China will not go first.

[1] See Xinhuanet. (2017, January 19). Backgrounder: 10 key quotes from Xi’s speech at UN Office at Geneva

[2] SIPRI. (2023, June 12). States invest in nuclear arsenals as geopolitical relations deteriorate. SIPRI.

[3] See above.

[4] Greve, J. E., & Gambino, L. (2023, February 26). Capitol Hill finds rare bipartisan cause in China – but it could pose problems. The Guardian


From Chapter 13- The need for Global Cooperation

China is considered the number one carbon polluter in the world, emitting as much as a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions. But China is also the world’s largest exporter, with a large amount of its manufacturing output going to the United States.[1] It’s complicated and potentially unfair to assign emissions numbers to particular countries when everything is embedded in international trade.[2]

Let’s say a smartphone is built in China and sold in the US. Parts of it have been built in a number of different countries and then assembled in China. The raw materials for those smartphone parts have been dug out of the ground in a different set of countries. Meanwhile, a US company has shut its US smartphone factory and opened the one in China, where the labor force was cheaper and more malleable. US investors got together with investors from other countries, and they all invested in the Chinese factory. Now they all profit from smartphone sales in a different set of countries. 

But who is blamed for emitting the carbon? Typically, that would be China, where the phone was assembled – not the miners in Australia and Brazil, not the Mexican company that shipped the phone, not the US consumer driving the whole process.

The US long ago outsourced a lot of its industrial production to China.[3] So much of China’s carbon emissions are actually US carbon emissions, resulting from the production of goods that are sold and used in the United States.

Read more about China and the Inflation Reduction Act here

Carbon emissions cannot be pinpointed to specific countries any more than the effects of global warming can be limited to specific countries. We live together on a single, small planet. And our relationships with each other are terribly complex. We’re are all in this together, and we can only get out of it by addressing it together.

US imports from top five countries[4]

China and the US are inextricably linked, despite recent US rhetoric that has painted China as an adversary. China was the largest source of goods imported to the United States for many years. In the summer of 2023, much was made of the fact that China was being overtaken by both Canada and Mexico as the largest exporters to the US. We have yet to see what the final figures will be at the end of 2023,[5] but in any case, where do Canada and Mexico source a lot of the products they export to the US? You guessed it. From China.[6]

Chinese companies are also building factories and investing billions in Mexico, so at least some of what the US now imports from Mexico is actually built in Chinese factories run by Chinese companies, even when the label reads “Made in Mexico.”[7]

[1] See China (CHN) Exports, Imports, and Trade Partners | The Observatory of Economic Complexity. (2021).

[2] See, for example, Glen P. Peters and Edgar G. Hertwich (2008), CO2 Embodied in International Trade with Implications for Global Climate Policy, in Environmental Science & Technology, 42 (5), 1401-1407

DOI: 10.1021/es072023k and also Chen, ZM., Ohshita, S., Lenzen, M. et al (2018). Consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions accounting with capital stock change highlights dynamics of fast-developing countries. Nat Commun 9, 3581.

[3] For example, Benefits of Outsourcing Manufacturing to China—Baysource Global. (n.d.).

[4] US Census Bureau, Trade in Goods With country pages:; /c2010.html; /c5700.html; /c5880.html; /c4280.html.

[5] See, for example, reports such as Roberts, K. (2023, July 11). After 14 Years On Top, China Now Ranks Third For U.S. Imports. Forbes.

[6] Imports By Country. (2022). From

[7]Chinese firms accelerate investment in the country—MEXICONOW. (2021, July 28).