Eagle-eyed Google Earth fans spotted over a hundred new missile silos in China’s Yumen desert, sparking fears of a massive expansion of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
But they may not have been as eagle-eyed as they thought. Official Chinese sources have pointed out that the satellite photo showing the 'missile' base is clearly marked with a caption revealing that the launch pads are in fact the "Yumen Gansu Wind Farm".
Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on China’s nuclear capabilities, told the Washington Post that the satellite image was proof that China was expanding its nuclear arsenal at an "incredible" rate.
"If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction," he said.
"We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a US first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defences."
He added that the silos would probably house China’s DF-41 missiles, which can carry multiple warheads and reach targets over 9,000 miles away – putting much of the US mainland within the target area.
But now, reports TFI Global News, China’s government-backed Central News Agency has claimed that the site in Gansu houses nothing more dangerous than a large number of wind turbines.
The report quotes Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping as saying that the tactic of sitting ballistic missiles in launch silos was a "clumsy" practice that is considered outdated by Chinese military strategists.
He poured cold water on the reports of an expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal, saying: "This tactic of spreading rumours is very low-level and not worth disputing at all."
China is not currently believed to have sufficient nuclear warheads to arm an additional 100 missiles, but the building of redundant silos was commonplace during the Cold War to leave any potential enemy uncertain as to where to launch a nuclear first strike.
In April, the US's nuclear forces commander Admiral Charles Richards warned of China's "breathtaking expansion" of its missile programme.
Despite mounting international pressure, China has so far refused to enter discussions about arms controls with the US and Russia.
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