According to a report made public by the Pentagon on Tuesday, China will probably have 1,500 nuclear warheads in its armory by 2035 if it keeps up its current rate of nuclear buildup.
Even if the forecasts do not suggest China is speeding up the pace of its already rapid warhead development, the statistic highlights growing U.S. fears about China's intentions for its growing nuclear arsenal.
The Pentagon additionally issued a warning, stating that Beijing's pursuit of unification with Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island that Beijing views as its own, will result in Beijing's goal of making the People's Liberation Army "a more credible military tool" by 2027.
The most recent report, which primarily focuses on military developments involving China in the past year, reflects American worries about Beijing's ongoing nuclear buildup and pressure on Taiwan, including increased flights in the island's self-declared air defense identification zone, which Washington considers as "provocative and destabilizing."
The Defense Department claims that China "probably accelerated its nuclear expansion" in 2021, increasing its stockpile of nuclear weapons from an estimated 200 to over 400. This is in contrast to an assessment made a year earlier that China's stockpile of warheads was in the low 200s.
The report, titled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," noted that the PLA intends to essentially finish modernizing its troops by 2035, but predicted Beijing "will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline."
According to a senior U.S. defense official, the latest estimate does not suggest a significant acceleration in the expansion of the nuclear stockpile relative to the Pentagon's assessment from a year ago that China would probably have at least 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030.
Asserting that the two nations with the greatest nuclear arsenals, the United States and Russia, have the major responsibility for nuclear disarmament, China has been hesitant to participate in arms control negotiations with Washington. As of September 2020, the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads contained 3,750 warheads, according to the State Department.
The Pentagon's report also emphasized that China "has never renounced the use of military force" against Taiwan while noting that "the circumstances under which the PRC has historically indicated it would consider using force remain ambiguous and have evolved over time." Military actions that China could take against Taiwan could include an air and maritime blockade, a full-scale amphibious invasion, and the seizure and occupation of all of Taiwan, as well as some of its offshore islands.