The Pentagon report said China would likely acquire around 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 at its current pace of expansion / © AFP/File
China on Tuesday criticised a US defence report estimating Beijing's nuclear arsenal would triple by 2035 as "groundless speculation" and accused Washington of "hyping up" the military threat posed by the world's most populous country.
The US Department of Defense released its annual China Military Power Report last week, which said China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) would likely acquire around 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 at its current pace of expansion.
That figure would still lag far behind the arsenals of the United States and Russia, which each include several thousand nuclear warheads.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said the report "distorts China's defence policy and military strategy, is groundless speculation on China's military development... and is (the United States') customary trick to hype up and exaggerate China's so-called military threat".
"The United States is making accusations and speculations about the modernisation of China's nuclear forces, when in fact it is the one that should deeply review and reflect on its own nuclear policy," Tan added.
The Pentagon report also said Beijing had "adopted more dangerous, coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region".
The PLA would "likely continue to increase military pressure -- in concert with diplomatic, information and economic pressure -- in an attempt to compel Taiwan toward unification", it said.
Tan on Tuesday said this "grossly interfered" in China's internal affairs regarding its attitude towards Taiwan, which is a flashpoint in deteriorating US-China relations.
After US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-ruled island in early August, China staged unprecedented military exercises in the surrounding waters and fired multiple missiles, some of which Japan said landed in its exclusive economic zone.
"The PLA increased provocative and destabilising actions in and around the Taiwan Strait, to include ... conducting exercises focused on the potential seizure of one of Taiwan's outlying islands," the US report said, in reference to this incident.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and top military officials have repeatedly stated that China's eventual "unification" with Taiwan is inevitable, and have hardened their rhetoric to include the possibility of a takeover using military force.
In October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was "determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline" than previously expected.
The United States has pledged to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself in the event of an invasion, but remains ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily.