US pushes arms control talks as China’s nuclear arsenal grows – Community News
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US pushes arms control talks as China’s nuclear arsenal grows

Washington is pushing for arms control talks with China as the long-held nuclear power has quickly expanded its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and more weapons to carry them.

US officials say President Biden and his counterpart, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, agreed at a virtual summit this week over talks over what White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan described as “strategic stability.”

Beijing made no mention of such developments in the description of the meeting. A Chinese official who was briefed on the matter told The Wall Street Journal that the two sides could launch a so-called Track II dialogue between non-governmental defense analysts and academics.

China has about 350 nuclear warheads, according to the latest Pentagon’s annual assessment of China’s military might. That’s a fraction of the 3,750 nuclear warheads the US has stockpiled. But the Pentagon says China is on track to have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of the decade.

Beijing has also developed missiles and other systems that can carry the warheads, the Pentagon says. A test of a hypersonic glider vehicle in August showed a new way Beijing could try to evade US missile defenses — in what General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, described as an almost “Sputnik moment”.

All of that makes a Chinese nuclear arsenal more likely to survive a first nuclear exchange in a full-scale war and potentially be useful in a more limited conflict. What worries the Pentagon, US officials and defense experts say, is that Beijing has not yet publicly explained the reasons for its building.

“At the grassroots level, the US wants to understand what’s going on in China and the basic motivation behind China’s expansion,” said Zhao Tong, a Beijing-based nuclear weapons expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As with Washington’s arms control dialogue with Russia, Mr. Zhao said, “There are no easy solutions.”

The Chinese Defense Ministry has said little about its nuclear weapons. The Department of Defense and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

In the past, when asked about media reports and scientific commentary in the West pointing to more missile silos, spokesmen for the State Department have said they were not aware of any increase. They have referred to the hypersonic rocket test, previously reported by the Financial Times, as not a rocket launch, but rather as a routine spacecraft test to verify its reusability.

US officials say China has long kept its nuclear stockpile at a relatively low level — enough to ensure it could respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear weapons. But some analysts believe Beijing’s concerns about the US’s recent advances in its ability to detect and defend against small numbers of such weapons could fuel its efforts to expand its arsenal.

Tensions between the US and China over areas such as the South China Sea and Taiwan could also have encouraged Beijing to ensure its nuclear capabilities are strong enough to deter its rivals’ use of nuclear weapons, some say. analysts.

“Chinese leaders may believe there is some risk of a conventional war between China and the United States, so they may need to increase nuclear deterrence,” said Wu Riqiang, an arms control expert at Renmin University in Beijing.

At China’s annual legislative meeting in March, Xi called for accelerated construction of high-level strategic deterrence systems, which some analysts have interpreted as a signal that Beijing could be in the early stages of a greater effort to reorganize its nuclear program. .

Mr Xi also oversaw measures to build China’s capability to carry out nuclear strikes from submarines and aircraft, as well as land-based missiles. “Our nuclear capabilities at sea need to develop tremendously,” Mr Xi said during a visit to a submarine base in 2018.

On Wednesday, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan panel, warned in its annual report to Congress that the scale of China’s nuclear build-up could be intended to support and utilize a “new limited nuclear-first use strategy.” may be by Chinese leaders to try to prevent US intervention in a war over Taiwan.

Mr Zhao of the Carnegie Endowment said that in addition to acquiring a “second attack capability” — the ability to withstand an initial nuclear attack and then respond in kind — Beijing could be looking for ways to respond to smaller-scale use of nuclear weapons by opponents.

He said it could be difficult for nuclear powers, once down this road, to determine which capabilities are sufficient. “The competition is becoming much more zero-sum,” he said.

According to its own limited disclosures, the Chinese military has been developing capabilities to respond more quickly to a nuclear attack for years, although independent analysts say neither the motivations nor the extent of such capabilities are clear.

US officials say China is keeping some of its nuclear weapons on high alert and has been conducting launch-on-warning response exercises since 2017, which could use radar and satellite data to launch a retaliatory strike before nuclear weapons are fired from a single source. hit enemy.

In 2018, the official newspaper of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology reported that China has two types of remote sensing satellites for ballistic missiles. The following year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was helping China develop an anti-missile early warning system.

Last year, Yang Chengjun, a retired Chinese senior colonel who had served in the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, wrote in a domestic media article that China could launch an early nuclear counterattack in minutes.

Still, reports of Rocket Force exercises by Chinese state media, including the People’s Liberation Army Daily, have not disclosed whether the weapons used are nuclear or conventional.

“It’s clear that [China’s] security organization has come to the conclusion that it needs a more robust nuclear stance,” said David M. Finkelstein, a retired U.S. military officer and director of China and Indo-Pacific security affairs at CNA’s Center for Naval Analyzes, a federal government funded think tank in Virginia “But why that is is still the question.”

Even with the leaders of the two countries agreeing to talks, analysts don’t expect any major breakthroughs in the near future. The US-China relationship, despite signs of a thaw on issues such as climate change, remains suspicious of a range of controversial topics, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and industrial policy.

The US has for years called on China to send officials rather than independent experts to meet and discuss nuclear issues, but Chinese officials are reluctant to join.

A Track II format would be a step back from previous nuclear weapons meetings between the two countries. Between 2004 and 2019, analysts from China and the US, as well as officials, met in an unofficial capacity, though talks eventually fell apart, said Mr Zhao, who attended some of the earlier meetings. US participants later expressed frustration that China was slow in scheduling Beijing talks and sending delegates that were under-ranked, he said.

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