China and the United States have agreed to hold nuclear arms control talks next week, the first such move since the Obama administration. Beijing announced that the two countries would hold ‘consultations on arms control and non-proliferation’ in Washington on Monday. It came after the Pentagon last week disclosed plans for a new devastating nuclear weapon 24 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Last month, it was revealed that China has been surging its production of nuclear warheads and is expected to double its arsenal to over 1,000 by 2030. The prospect of a new nuclear arms race has pushed officials on both sides towards talks. They will be held before a probable meeting between Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco later this month.
Mallory Stewart, a senior State Department official, is expected to led the nuclear talks in Washington on Monday, with Sun Xiaobo, head of the arms-control department at China’s Foreign Ministry, the Wall Street Journal reported. Concern has been growing in Washington about the scale of China’s nuclear ambitions. In 2021 U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden and Xi had agreed to look at starting a ‘discussion on strategic stability’.
However, since then, U.S. officials have expressed frustration that China showed little interest in doing so. The White House said the new discussions would not be formal arms reduction talks like those that have been held in the past with Moscow. Relations between Washington and Beijing have been at a low ebb deteriorated since a Chinese spy balloon flew over the U.S. in February.
They were already deteriorating amid Beijing’s aggressiveness toward Taiwan, its military activities in the South China Sea, and disputes over trade and human rights. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the new talks would probably focus on promoting greater transparency about U.S. and Chinese doctrines on the use of nuclear weapons and developing more effective communications to deal with any future crisis.
‘I don’t think, however, we should expect breakthroughs in the near term,’ he said. ‘That’s going to take time and give and take from both sides.’ Beijing has said it is committed to a ‘no first use’ policy on nuclear weapons, meaning it would never launch a preemptive strike. The U.S. does not have a ‘no first use’ policy, leaving open the option of a preemptive strike, but Washington says nuclear weapons would be used only in ‘extreme circumstances.’ Last week the Pentagon announced plans for a new nuclear gravity bomb known as the B61-13.
It would be dropped from aircraft including the $692 million B-21 Raider stealth bomber, which is currently in development. Gravity bombs are unguided but the B61-13 will have a tail kit helping with targeting and making it more accurate. Defense officials said it was a response to ‘growing threats from potential adversaries’ and would ‘provide the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets.’
It will have a maximum yield of 360 kilotons, which is 24 times the roughly 15 kiloton yield of the bomb that was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later had a yield of about 25 kilotons. If dropped on a city the new B61-13 would kill an estimated one million people. The U.S. currently has around 3,700 nuclear warheads, of which 1,419 are deployed. Russia has a stockpile of 4,489 nuclear warheads, of which about 1,550 are deployed.
China has long argued that it should be free to develop its nuclear arsenal because the U.S. and Russian stockpiles are currently much larger. Last month, the Pentagon said in its annual China Military Power Report that Beijing has already amassed at least 500 operational nuclear warheads, more than the U.S. had previously believed. U.S. defense officials said that ‘raises a lot of concerns for us’ and urged Beijing to be ‘more transparent on their nuclear buildup.’ Read the full story:
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