China wants the US and Russia to begin curtailing their nuclear arsenals before it negotiates over its much smaller nuclear force, the leading members of an international disarmament panel said yesterday.
“China’s basic position is that it’s up to others to make the first move in this respect, in particular the United States and Russia,” said Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, after a meeting of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament in Beijing.
“There was some reluctance on the Chinese side to go much further at this stage,” he told a news conference.
Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi, a former Japanese foreign minister, jointly lead the commission, funded by their governments, which is exploring ways to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons and will produce a report for world leaders.
They also met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) to discuss the panel’s work.
The commission’s goals gained a boost from US President Barack Obama’s vow that the US was ready to lead steps by all states with atomic weapons to reduce their arsenals.
A conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) also recently defied expectations when the 189 signatories unanimously agreed an agenda for a major review next year.
But those moves have also raised attention on how China, with a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the US or Russia, will handle disarmament expectations. Tokyo has pressed Beijing to cut atomic weapons, and Evans said Washington is also eager to open up talks with China on nuclear weapons.
Kawaguchi said the issues brought “heated” discussion among the experts and officials from across the northeast Asia region attending the Beijing meeting.
China holds about 240 nuclear warheads, compared to the 9,400 held by the US and 13,000 held by Russia, the Federation of American Scientists recently estimated.
But the Pentagon has said China is the only major nuclear power still expanding its arsenal. The People’s Liberation Army has been deploying new ballistic missiles and developing a generation of atomic submarines capable of launching missiles with nuclear warheads, observers have said.
Evans said it was unrealistic to expect China to scale back its nuclear force soon, but Beijing could help disarmament by being more candid about the size of its atomic arsenal and the doctrine governing its possible use.
“Realistically, it’s a necessary precondition of anything much more happening [regarding China] that we see some initial movement in the US-Russia talks,” Evans said.
China held its first nuclear test explosion in 1964 and acceded to the NPT in 1992.
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