US says China likely to have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030

China has rejected a US Pentagon report claiming that the Asian country has more than 500 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal and will probably have more than 1,000 by 2030.

China said the report was “filled with prejudice and distorts facts”, as it clarified that it has no intention of indulging in a nuclear arms race.

The statement came a day after the Pentagon released its annual report on the Beijing military. In the wide-ranging report, the Pentagon said China’s more than 500 warheads as of May 2023 were on track to exceed projections.

In a previous report, the Pentagon estimated that Beijing had more than 400 operational nuclear warheads in 2021.

"We see the PRC (People’s Republic of China) continuing to quite rapidly modernise and diversify and expand its nuclear forces," a senior US official told reporters during a briefing on the report.

However, on Friday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson issued a statement rejecting the US claims.

"First of all, the United States report, like similar reports before it, ignores the facts, is full of prejudice and spreads the theory of the threat posed by China," ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a press briefing in response to a question about the US report.

"China firmly adheres to a nuclear strategy of self-defence and defence, we have always maintained our nuclear forces at the lowest level required for national security, and we have no intention of engaging in a nuclear arms race with any country," Mr Mao said.

The report added that China’s navy had more than 370 ships and submarines, up from the 340 ships they had last year.

The expanding naval force is central to President Xi Jinping’s bid to make China the preeminent military power in the region and Beijing already has the largest navy in the world.

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

"As long as any country does not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against China, it will not be threatened by China’s nuclear weapons," Mr Mao said.

Relations between China and the United States have been tense, with friction between the world’s two largest economies over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity in the South China Sea.

But Washington has been eager to revive military-to-military communications with China.

Last week the Pentagon said it had accepted an invitation to attend China’s top annual security forum in late October, the latest sign of potentially warming ties between the two countries’ militaries.

Additional reporting from the agencies