China yesterday said that it would continue to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal, while calling on the US and Russia to reduce their own stockpiles a day after global powers pledged to prevent such weapons from spreading.
In a rare joint statement setting aside rising tensions, the US, China, Russia, the UK and France reaffirmed their goal of creating a world free of nuclear weapons and avoiding a nuclear conflict.
The five nuclear powers also committed to full future disarmament from nuclear weapons, which have only been used in conflict in the US bombings of Japan at the end of World War II, but squaring that rhetoric with reality would not be easy at a time of spiraling tensions between those same global powers not seen since the Cold War.
There are growing global concerns about China’s rapid military modernization, especially after its armed forces last year announced they had developed a hypersonic missile that can fly at five times the spread of sound.
The US has also said that China is expanding its nuclear arsenal to as many as 700 warheads by 2027 and possibly 1,000 by 2030.
China yesterday defended its nuclear weapons policy, and said Russia and the US — by far the world’s largest nuclear powers — should make the first move on disarmament.
“The US and Russia still possess 90 percent of the nuclear warheads on Earth,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Arms Control Director-General Fu Cong (傅聰) told reporters. “They must reduce their nuclear arsenal in an irreversible and legally binding manner.”
Fu dismissed US claims that China was vastly increasing its nuclear capabilities.
“China has always adopted the ‘no first use’ policy and we maintain our nuclear capabilities at the minimal level required for our national security,” he said.
However, he said Beijing would “continue to modernize its nuclear arsenal for reliability and safety issues.”
Ties between Beijing and Washington have been strained over a series of issues, including Beijing’s saber-rattling toward Taiwan, which has reached new heights under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the nation’s most authoritarian leader in a generation.
Fu dismissed speculation over the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons near the Taiwan Strait.
“Nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent, they are not for war or fighting,” he said.
While the US and Russia have had a formal strategic stability dialogue since the days of the Cold War, producing several disarmament agreements, that is not the case between Washington and Beijing.
In Europe, tensions with Moscow have deteriorated over a Russian troop buildup close to its border with Ukraine. That has raised fears that the Kremlin, worried by the possibility of further eastward expansion of NATO, is planning a new attack on its neighbor.
Crunch talks between Russia and the US on European security are expected in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday next week.
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