China agrees to historical nuclear talks with US

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FILE PHOTO: The flags of the United States and China fly from a lamppost in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

China and the United States are set to engage in discussions regarding nuclear arms control next week. This marks the first time such talks have taken place since the Obama administration.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Monday, following Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Washington, that the two nations would conduct “consultations on arms control and non-proliferation” in the forthcoming days, alongside separate discussions on maritime affairs and other related issues. The talks concerning arms control will be led by Mallory Stewart, a senior official from the State Department, and Sun Xiaobo, the head of China’s Foreign Ministry arms-control department.

The primary objective of these talks is to prevent a potential three-way arms race involving the US, China, and Russia. The timing and format of these talks are not clear for the moment.

In 2021, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan mentioned an agreement between the Chinese and US presidents to initiate discussions on “strategic stability,” addressing Washington’s concerns about Beijing’s nuclear weapons expansion. However, the White House pointed up that these discussions would not resemble formal arms reduction talks, similar to those between the US and Russia.

US officials have expressed frustration over what they perceive as China’s reluctance to engage in discussions regarding the reduction of nuclear weapon risks. As of October, the Pentagon reported that China currently possesses more than 500 operational nuclear warheads, with a projected increase to over 1,000 warheads by 2030. However, Beijing has consistently argued that the US holds a significantly larger arsenal. The US stockpile is roughly ten times larger than China’s arsenal.

The arms talks are expected to precede a potential meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November, although a senior official from the Biden administration mentioned that crucial details are yet to be finalised.

Over recent months, numerous diplomatic engagements between China and the US, primarily at the request of Washington, have aimed to salvage the rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries, which began following the US downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in February.

The arms talks will likely focus on enhancing transparency regarding each country’s nuclear doctrines and establishing more effective crisis-communication channels. There will be no immediate breakthroughs, as analysts say that progress will take time and will require compromise from both sides.

Even if the US and China have differing perspectives on the necessity of reducing nuclear risks, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, analysts think these talks will hold substantial implications for global security and stability, aiming to reduce the risk of nuclear escalation during crises.

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