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WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Wednesday sharply increased its estimate of China's projected nuclear weapons arsenal over the coming years, saying Beijing could have 700 warheads by 2027 and possibly 1,000 by 2030.

While the numbers would still be significantly smaller than the current US nuclear stockpile, they represent a significant change in the US projection from just last year, when the Pentagon warned the Chinese arsenal would top 400 by the end of the decade.

Washington has repeatedly called on China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.

In its wide-ranging annual report to Congress on China's military, the Pentagon reiterated concern about increasing pressure on self-ruled Taiwan, an island China sees as a breakaway province, and China's chemical and biological programs and technological advancements.

But the report put particular emphasis on China's growing nuclear arsenal.

"Over the next decade, the PRC aims to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces," the report said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

China surprises US with hypersonic missile test, FT reports

It added that China had started building at least three intercontinental ballistic missile silo fields.

"Whether China follows through with these estimates from the United States will depend in great part on the policies and actions of the United States," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said.

"The potential for China to increase its arsenal to these levels underscores the urgent necessity of pragmatic bilateral or multilateral talks to reduce nuclear risks," Kimball added.

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 3,750 nuclear warheads, of which 1,389 were deployed as of Sept. 1.

The Pentagon report added a section on China's biological weapons and potential dual use, but did not look at the origins of COVID-19.

US intelligence agencies said last week that they may never be able to identify the origins of the pandemic, as they released a detailed version of their review of whether the coronavirus came from animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab.

China has consistently denied allegations that the virus was leaked from a specialist laboratory in Wuhan.

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