China underscored this week that it is willing to engage in negotiations with the U.S. to reduce nuclear arsenals and to underpin strategic stability. However, the offer comes with the caveat that Washington must first reduce its arsenal to the level of China’s before Beijing will engage in such talks.
That is an eminently reasonable and logical proposal. The starting point is to look at the existing balance of forces. While the U.S. and Russia each possess about 6,000 nuclear warheads, China’s arsenal is assessed to number around 300. The difference is 20-fold.
It is therefore derisory for the Trump administration to keep on insisting that China has an “obligation” to join in arms-control negotiations between Washington and Moscow.
China’s nuclear arsenal is comparable to that of France and Britain, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. So, why isn’t the Trump administration’s keenness to include China in arms-control talks extended to its two NATO allies? Their omission shows the illogical, if not disingenuous, thinking in Washington.
Fu Cong, director of arms control policy at China’s foreign ministry, stated this week: “I can assure you that if the U.S. says that they are ready to come down to the Chinese level, China will be happy to participate the next day. But actually, we know that it’s not going to happen. We know the U.S. policy.”
He added: “Saying that the small number of nuclear warheads that China possesses poses a threat to U.S. security, when the U.S. has 6,000, I don’t think that stands to logic.”
Washington and Moscow resumed talks last month on strategic stability and in particular renewing the START accord on limiting long-range nuclear weapons. Further bilateral talks are scheduled to take place later this month and in January, one month before the 2010 New START pact is due to expire. If the treaty is not replaced then there are fears of a new global arms race breaking out.
During the talks last month in Vienna, it was apparent that Washington is trying to use uncertainty over the future of START as ploy to pull China into trilateral talks. That negotiating tactic amounts to a reckless disregard by America of its existing obligations to ensure global security and peace.
As Beijing points out, the priority for China is for Washington and Moscow to agree to extend the New START treaty and continue to reduce their arsenals on that basis as mandated by the treaty.
China “will participate when their [American and Russian] nuclear arsenals come down to a level comparable to the level of Chinese nuclear warheads.”
Moscow has said that it “respects” the Chinese position on arms control. It also has urged the American side to prioritize its obligations on upholding the START accord and to fulfill its binding treaty commitments to achieve further nuclear disarmament.
Russia and China’s perspectives seem undoubtedly to be the most logical and principled.
A more sinister interpretation of Washington’s ambiguous position is that it using unreasonable demands on China as a pretext for crashing the START accord. If Beijing cannot be cajoled into joining a trilateral forum, as Washington insists, then the latter will invoke China’s alleged “bad faith” in order to give a pseudo reason for not renewing START. Such a maneuver by the Trump administration was employed for unilaterally pulling out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty last year, when the U.S. cited dubious claims that Russia was in breach of that arms-control pact.
What this American administration appears to be seeking is a free hand to increase its nuclear forces, thereby shirking historic international obligations for disarmament. Motivating this is Washington’s incorrigible Cold War ideology which perceives both Russia and China as “great power rivals”.
Washington’s insistent calls on China to join arms-control talks have little to do with a desire to underpin global security and strategic balance. Such calls are belied glaringly by an intensifying campaign of invective and hostility towards China. Just this week, for example, Christopher Wray, the head of the American FBI, accused China of being the “greatest threat” to the U.S.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi noted this week that bilateral relations between Washington and Beijing are at the worst level in more than four decades since former President Richard Nixon opened an era of detente in the mid-1970s.
China has repeatedly appealed to Washington to drop its Cold War hostility and zero-sum thinking; and instead to strive for “peaceful coexistence”.
Regrettably, such a fundamental change seems unlikely for Washington under this administration or even under a new Democrat one. Indeed, on the contrary, Washington seems irrepressibly wired for war. That is because American foreign policy is at its core hegemonic, propelled by the imperialist logic of its capitalist economy and the inherent need for domination. Thus, peaceful coexistence is anathema.
Beijing’s willingness to engage in comprehensive arms-control talks lays bare the cynical claims made by Washington that China is secretly rushing to build up its nuclear arsenal with aggressive intent. What’s more, Beijing’s reasonable proposal for joining disarmament efforts exposes Washington’s rank duplicity.