China likely to have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035: Pentagon

A nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is seen during a military display in the South China Sea April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - China will likely have a stockpile of 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if it continues with its current nuclear buildup pace, according to a report released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The figure underscores mounting U.S. concerns about China's intentions for its expanding nuclear arsenal, even though the projections do not suggest China is accelerating the pace of its already-brisk warhead development.

"They've got a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps," a senior U.S. defense official said during a news briefing on the Pentagon's annual report on China's military.

"It does raise questions about whether they're kind of shifting away from a strategy that was premised on what they referred to as a lean and effective deterrent."

The report, which primarily covers activities in 2021, said China currently has a nuclear stockpile of more than 400 warheads.

The Pentagon's projection for China's nuclear arsenal of 1,000 warheads by 2030 remained unchanged, the official said, adding the projection for 2035 was based on an unchanged pace of expansion.

China says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, and that it is ready for dialogue, but only if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China's level.

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.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping signaled during a Communist Party Congress in October that China would strengthen its strategic deterrent, a term often used to describe nuclear weapons. read more

The report reiterated concern about increasing pressure by Beijing on self-ruled Taiwan, an island China sees as a breakaway province.

The U.S. official said Washington did not see an invasion of Taiwan as imminent.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.

Thomson Reuters

Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning Washington-based national security reporter, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and moderated national security events, including at the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He is a recipient of the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.