The United States is now preparing for rare discussions on nuclear arms control with China, marking the first such talks since Barack Obama was in office in 2009.
The expected conversations come in response to mounting concerns surrounding Beijing’s rapid efforts to expand its supply of atomic weapons. The highly-anticipated discussions are expected to commence next week at a basic level.
The purpose of the talks is not to reduce the size of China’s nuclear arsenal, but rather provide the Biden administration with deeper insights into China’s intentions.
This initiative comes in the wake of a Pentagon report which indicated that China was accelerating its production of nuclear weapons at a pace exceeding previous expectations.
The discussions are scheduled to take place in the lead-up to President Joe Biden’s upcoming meeting with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and set to occur at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in two weeks.
The talks represent a gradual resumption of interactions between the U.S. and China, which had been disrupted amidst disputes concerning Taiwan, trade, and other issues. This renewed engagement follows the initial meeting between Biden and Xi at a Group of 20 summit in Bali a year ago.
In October, the Pentagon released a report indicating that China possessed approximately 500 nuclear warheads this year and had intentions to increase that number to over 1,000 by 2030, a pace of expansion faster than anticipated. The United States, on the other hand, maintains around 3,700 nuclear warheads.
U.S. leaders are also concerned about preventing a potential three-way nuclear arms race involving Russia and China. This concern is particularly strong as discussions regarding the extension of the New START treaty, which is due to expire in 2026, have stalled due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned in June that the Biden administration was open to engaging with Russia on nuclear arms control. However, the acceleration of China’s nuclear arsenal growth has complicated these efforts and necessitates consideration as the U.S. modernizes its own nuclear forces.
Sullivan emphasized that China’s plan to possess up to 1,500 warheads by 2035 represents one of the most significant peacetime nuclear buildups in history.