A senior Chinese diplomat has told US news agency CNN that China would be “happy” to join trilateral nuclear arms control talks with the United States and Russia, on the condition that Washington reduces its nuclear arsenal to a level similar to that of China’s.
After unilaterally withdrawing from several key arms control and verification treaties over the last 2 years, US President Donald Trump has stated on several occasions that he wants China to join in a three-way treaty designed to replace the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, known as the New START nuclear agreement, between Washington and Moscow, which expires in February 2021.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced that the US is leaving the Open Skies treaty. The treaty was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002. It offers all signatories, regardless of size, a role in gathering information about military forces and is regarded as a wide-ranging international effort to promote military transparency through ‘mutual aerial observation’.
The Trump administration also pulled the United States out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year, which had limited the development and deployment of short-range ground-based missiles. In 2018, the US unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which had been negotiated with Iran and other major powers (Germany, Russia, China, the UK, France and the European Union) to end the standoff over the US’ and Israel’s unproven accusations and suspicions regarding Iran’s nuclear energy program.
In a parallel move to these developments, in May of this year the Trump administration announced that it was considering the resumption of nuclear tests.
Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the international agency responsible for monitoring nuclear tests, warned in response that a US return to testing being contemplated by the Trump administration would present a “grave challenge to global peace and security”
The US signed the CTBT in 1996 but the Senate voted against ratifying it. The treaty has been signed and ratified by 168 states but it will not come into force until the US, China, Israel and Egypt have ratified it, and it is signed and ratified by India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Meanwhile, the US has observed a voluntary moratorium on tests, as have the UK, France, Russia and China, and the CTBTO preparatory commission was established to set up a network of 300 seismic, hydro-acoustic, infrasound and radionuclide sensors around the world. The network of sensors helped detect nuclear tests by India, Pakistan and North Korea.
The possibility of the US renewing nuclear tests was strongly criticized by Chinese officials at the time, calling it a dangerous signal that would ignite a renewed arms race.
Now, the New START treaty is also under considerable pressure. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to limit deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 and continue with on-site inspection protocols, test launch notifications, and data exchanges, vital mechanisms for ensuring a degree of predictability especially during periods of tension.
Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the bilateral nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia, using this as an excuse to delay substantive negotiations with Russia over renewing the treaty before it expires next February.
Speaking on 24 June, Marshall Billingslea, the top US envoy for nuclear negotiations, echoed Trump’s demands, claiming that Beijing had an “obligation” to negotiate, and accusing the Chinese government of engaging in a “rapid buildup” of its nuclear program. However, such a claim is extremely disingenuous as the Chinese nuclear arsenal remains for smaller than that of the US both in terms of number and firepower.
The Chinese military currently has far fewer nuclear weapons than either the US or Russia, both of which have at least 5,000 nuclear warheads each. In comparison, it is estimated that China only about 320 nuclear weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Up until now Beijing has said joining the bilateral treaty between the nuclear superpowers is out of the question, given the disparity between their respective nuclear arsenals.
Preliminary negotiations are already underway between the US and Russia, but the Chinese government is refusing to take part in any nuclear agreement with the US under current conditions.
At a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, Fu Cong, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, said that while China is a “strong advocate for nuclear disarmament,” Beijing’s position on trilateral talks had been made clear on “numerous occasions.”
“I can assure you that if the US says that they are ready to come down to the Chinese level (of nuclear weapons), China will be happy to participate the next day. But actually we know that’s not going to happen.
China has no interest in joining the so-called trilateral negotiations, given the huge gap between the nuclear arsenal of China and those of the US and the Russian Federation.
For us, this trilateral negotiation is nothing but a ‘hoax,’ to use a word of the US President.”
Fu dismissed claims that there was a rapid escalation of China’s nuclear missile capabilities and accused the US of trying to use China as an excuse to shirk their treaty commitments.
“The real purpose is to get rid of all restrictions and have a free hand in seeking military superiority over any adversary, real or imagined,” he said. LINK
Experts believe there are nine nuclear-capable states: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All but North Korea are believed to have weapons advanced enough to be readily deployed.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- China warns US resumption of nuclear tests ‘would open Pandora’s box’
- The US is leaving the Open Skies Treaty