A senior US defence official told the media on Tuesday that “they have got a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps”.
He added: “It does raise questions about whether they are kind of shifting away from a strategy that was premised on what they referred to as a lean and effective deterrent.”
The Pentagon report titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China”, also commonly called the “China Military Power Report”, said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) planned a “basically complete modernisation” of its national defence and armed forces by 2035.
It estimated that China’s operational nuclear warheads stockpile has surpassed 400 and that in 2021, Beijing “probably accelerated its nuclear expansion”.
The Pentagon official said that the projection for China’s nuclear arsenal of 1,000 warheads by 2030 remained unchanged, adding that the projection for 2035 was based on an unchanged pace of expansion.
China is also working to modernise its ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons. It launched some 135 in testing during 2021 – “more than the rest of the world combined” — excluding those fired in conflicts, the report said.
And Beijing’s Air Force is making strides “rapidly catching up to Western air forces”.
The official said that Beijing is “establishing kind of a new normal in terms of the level of military activity around Taiwan following the speaker’s visit”.
“Even though we don’t see an imminent invasion, obviously, that sort of an elevated level of... intimidating and coercive activity around Taiwan” is a source of concern, the official added.
The United States has a stockpile of about 3,700 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 1,740 were deployed, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think-tank, Reuters reported.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping had signalled during a Communist Party Congress in October that China would strengthen its strategic deterrent, a term often used to describe nuclear weapons, the report mentions.