U.S. and China Resume Nuclear Arms Talks, Beijing Assures No Atomic Threat Over Taiwan

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HONG KONG, June 21 (Reuters) – For the first time in five years, the United States and China resumed semi-official nuclear arms talks in March, with Chinese representatives assuring their U.S. counterparts that Beijing would not resort to atomic threats over Taiwan, according to two American delegates who attended.

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The Chinese delegates provided reassurances after U.S. officials raised concerns that China might use or threaten to use nuclear weapons if it faced defeat in a conflict over Taiwan. Beijing considers the democratically governed island its territory, a claim rejected by the government in Taipei.

“They told the U.S. side that they were absolutely convinced they could prevail in a conventional fight over Taiwan without using nuclear weapons,” said David Santoro, the U.S. organizer of the Track Two talks, details of which are being reported by Reuters for the first time.

Track Two talks involve former officials and academics who can authoritatively discuss their government’s position, even if they are not directly involved in setting policy. Government-to-government negotiations are known as Track One.

Washington was represented by about half a dozen delegates, including former officials and scholars, at the two-day discussions in a Shanghai hotel conference room. Beijing sent a delegation of scholars and analysts, including several former People’s Liberation Army officers.

A State Department spokesperson noted that Track Two talks could be “beneficial,” but clarified that the department did not participate in the March meeting, though it was aware of it. The spokesperson emphasized that such discussions cannot replace formal negotiations, which require participants to speak authoritatively on highly compartmentalized issues within the Chinese government.

Members of the Chinese delegation and Beijing’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

These informal discussions occurred amidst strained U.S.-China relations over major economic and geopolitical issues. The two countries briefly resumed Track One nuclear arms talks in November, but those negotiations have since stalled, with a top U.S. official publicly expressing frustration at China’s responsiveness.

The Pentagon estimates that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal increased by more than 20% between 2021 and 2023. In October, the Pentagon suggested that China might consider nuclear use to restore deterrence if facing a conventional military defeat in Taiwan.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and has intensified military activity around the island over the past four years. The Track Two talks are part of a two-decade-long dialogue on nuclear weapons and posture, which stalled after the Trump administration pulled funding in 2019. Semi-official discussions resumed post-COVID-19 on broader security and energy issues, with the Shanghai meeting focusing on nuclear weapons and posture.

Santoro, who leads the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum think tank, described “frustrations” on both sides during the discussions but noted a willingness to continue talks, with more discussions planned for 2025.

Nuclear policy analyst William Alberque of the Henry Stimson Centre, who was not involved in the March discussions, emphasized the importance of maintaining dialogue with China despite low expectations given the nuclear stakes.

The U.S. Department of Defense estimated last year that Beijing has 500 operational nuclear warheads and will likely exceed 1,000 by 2030. This compares to the U.S. and Russia, which have 1,770 and 1,710 operational warheads respectively. By 2030, much of Beijing’s arsenal is expected to be held at higher readiness levels.

Since 2020, China has modernized its arsenal, producing next-generation ballistic missile submarines, testing hypersonic glide vehicle warheads, and conducting regular nuclear-armed sea patrols. These advancements give China the “nuclear triad”—a hallmark of a major nuclear power.

A key point of discussion was whether China still adheres to its no-first-use and minimal deterrence policies, which date back to the 1960s. Santoro said the Chinese delegates affirmed these policies and stated, “We are not interested in reaching nuclear parity with you, let alone superiority.”

U.S. delegates Lyle Morris, a security scholar at the Asia Society Policy Institute, corroborated Santoro’s account. A report on the discussions is being prepared for the U.S. government but will not be made public, Santoro added.

Top U.S. arms control official Bonnie Jenkins recently told Congress that China had not responded to nuclear risk reduction proposals raised during last year’s formal talks. Beijing has yet to agree to further government-to-government meetings.

Alberque pointed out that China relies heavily on “risk and opacity” to mitigate U.S. nuclear superiority and sees no imperative for constructive discussions. He argued that China’s expanded arsenal exceeds the needs of a state with a minimal deterrence and no-first-use policy.

The U.S. delegates said the Chinese described their modernization efforts as deterrence-based, responding to improved U.S. missile defenses, better surveillance capabilities, and strengthened alliances.

Washington’s nuclear policy includes the possibility of using nuclear weapons if deterrence fails, though the Pentagon states this would only be considered under extreme circumstances. One Chinese delegate highlighted studies indicating that Chinese nuclear weapons remain vulnerable to U.S. strikes, suggesting their second-strike capability was insufficient, Morris noted.

By Naija247news
By Naija247newshttps://www.naija247news.com/
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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