China is acquiring nuclear arsenal at a pace much faster than anticipated and it is likely to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, the US defence department said in a report on Wednesday. The report also highlighted that Beijing is taking “incremental and tactical actions to press its claims” at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India despite participating in talk to resolve the crisis.

“The accelerating pace of the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) nuclear expansion may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027,” the US defence department said in its annual report on China released on Wednesday. “The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the DoD (Department of Defence) projected in 2020.”

The report further said that China has possibly already established a “nascent nuclear triad” with a a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile and improvement of its ground and sea-based nuclear capabilities. Additionally, developments in 2020 suggest that China “intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning posture with an expanded silo-based force”, the report said.

China’s nuclear policy is currently based on a strategy to survive the first strike and then respond with overwhelming force to inflict “unacceptable damage” on the enemy to deter it from launching another attack. Beijing publicly declared a “no first use” policy and it had undertaken not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear armed state or in a nuclear-weapon free zone. But the report pointed to continued ambiguity when these conditions will not be applied.

China currently has an estimated 330 nuclear warheads, according to an updated count by the Federation of American Scientists. It has the third largest stockpile after the United States and Russia, and even at the accelerated pace of acquisition, China will remain at that position. France with 290 warheads, the United Kingdom with 225, Pakistan with 165, India with 160, Israel with 90 and North Korea with 45 are the other nuclear-armed countries.

The US defence department report also talks at length about China’s border dispute with India, reiterating Washington’s long-held position that it blames China for starting the ongoing tensions through incursions. “Beginning in May 2020, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army, as the Chinese military is called) launched incursions into customarily Indian-controlled territory across the border and has concentrated troops at several standoff locations along the LAC,” the report said.

It highlights Chinese attempts to continue pressing its claims at the LAC even as it participates in talks to resolve the situation. “Despite the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions, the PRC has continued taking incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the LAC,” it said, pointing to a large 100-home civilian village China has constructed “inside disputed territory” between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh.

The report notes that Beijing seems keen, at the same time, to prevent the border standoff from developing into “into a wider military conflict” and wants to “return bilateral relations with New Delhi to a state of economic and diplomatic cooperation it had perceived to be improving since the 2017 Doklam standoff”.