China is likely to possess at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, the Pentagon said Wednesday in its annual report on the Chinese military, a sharp increase from last year's projection of Beijing reaching a total of 400 over a period of 10 years.
The latest estimate by the U.S. Defense Department suggests growing concern in Washington over the potential for rapid growth of China's nuclear arsenal as the rivalry between the two countries intensifies in various fields.
The report on "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China" said, "The accelerating pace of the PRC's nuclear expansion may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027," referring to acronym for China's official name. In 2027, China's military marks the 100th anniversary of its founding.
"The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030," the report said, adding that China aims to modernize, diversify and expand its nuclear weaponry over the next 10 years.
"The PRC is investing in, and expanding, the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces," it said.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia has 6,255 nuclear warheads, followed by the United States with 5,550 as of January this year. China possesses 350 nuclear warheads.
In February, the United States and Russia agreed on a five-year extension of the last remaining treaty capping their nuclear arsenals -- the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The New START limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armament.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden wants China to take part in the nuclear arms control talks with Russia, but Beijing has rejected it.
The Pentagon report also warned that China "has possibly already established a nascent 'nuclear triad'" consisting of ICBM, SLBM and air-launched ballistic missiles.
If China succeeds in modernizing its military, it will have a reliable military option in the event of contingencies involving Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, the report said.
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The report also noted that the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force of China "began to field its first operational hypersonic weapons system, the DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle capable medium-range ballistic missile" last year.
China continues to develop new ICBMs and improve its missile capabilities, while its leaders are "increasingly willing to confront the United States and other countries in areas where interest diverge," according to the report.