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Chinese strategic nuclear efforts have focused on developing and deploying a survivable long-range missile force that can hold a significant portion of the U.S. and Russian populations at risk in a retaliatory strike. By at least the late 1970s the Chinese launched an ambitious collection program focused on the U.S., including its national laboratories, to acquire nuclear weapons technologies. By the 1980s China recognized that its second strike capability might be in jeopardy unless its force became more survivable. This probably prompted the Chinese to heighten their interest in smaller and lighter nuclear weapon systems to permit a mobile force.

China obtained by espionage classified U.S. nuclear weapons information that probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons. This collection program allowed China to focus successfully down critical paths and avoid less promising approaches to nuclear weapons designs.

China’s technical advances have been made on the basis of classified and unclassified information derived from espionage, contact with U.S. and other countries’ scientists, conferences and publications, unauthorized media enclosures, declassified U.S. weapons information, and Chinese indigenous development. The relative contribution of each cannot be determined.

Regardless of the source of the weapons information, it has made an important contribution to the Chinese objective to maintain a second strike capability and provided useful information for future designs.

Significant deficiencies remain in the Chinese weapons program. The Chinese almost certainly are using aggressive collection efforts to address deficiencies as well as to obtain manufacturing and production capabilities from both nuclear and nonnuclear sources.

To date, the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.

China has had the technical capability to develop a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) system for its large, currently deployed ICBM for many years, but has not done so. U.S. information acquired by the Chinese could help them develop a MIRV for a future mobile missile.

We do not know if U.S. classified nuclear information acquired by the Chinese has been passed to other countries. Having obtained more modern U.S. nuclear technology, the Chinese might be less concerned about haring their older technology.

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