Joe Biden and Xi Jinping have agreed to hold talks with the aim of reducing tensions as US anxiety grows over China’s expanding nuclear arsenal and its latest test of a hypersonic weapon.
Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security adviser, said U.S. and Chinese presidents had discussed the need for negotiations on nuclear “strategic stability” at their virtual meeting on Monday. China has previously refused to hold nuclear talks, in part because the United States has a much larger arsenal of weapons.
“The two leaders agreed that we would look to start continuing discussions on strategic stability,” Sullivan told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The two sides did not decide on a format for the negotiations, and the United States wants to see if China will follow Xi’s promise. The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The development is the first sign that the two sides have reached an agreement to ease tensions over serious security issues. This comes amid the worst relations between the United States and China since the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1979.
At the more than three-hour meeting on Monday, Biden stressed that the two countries needed to create “defenses” to ensure that their competition “does not fluctuate in conflict”. Xi said they had to avoid derailing US-China relations.
The Pentagon said last week that China planned to more than quadruple its stockpile to at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. The United States has about 3,800. It said China built hundreds of silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles and had an incipient “nuclear triad” – the ability to launch nuclear missiles from land, sea and air – after deploying a nuclear bomber.
The U.S. Department of Defense also said China changed its nuclear stance in ways that suggested it shifted away from “minimum deterrence” – a policy to ensure it had just enough weapons to retaliate against an enemy attack – after five decades.
Last month, the Financial Times reported that in July, China was testing a nuclear weapon that could orbit the earth. General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the test was close to a “Sputnik moment”, referring to the Soviet Union launching a satellite into space in 1957.
Asked about China’s rapid nuclear expansion, which has become more apparent over the past year, and the hypersonic missile test, Sullivan said the problems “are of great importance to US national security”.
“President Biden raised with President Xi the need for a strategic stability set of talks… To be led by the leaders and led by senior empowered teams on both sides that go across security, technology and diplomacy,” Sullivan said.
The national security adviser added that negotiations with China would not be on the same level as the “strategic stability dialogue” that the United States is having with Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and with which the United States has had decades of arms. control negotiations.
“There is less maturity to [the nuclear aspect] in the US-China relationship, but the two leaders discussed these issues. And it is now up to us to think of the most productive way to move it forward from here, ”Sullivan said.
While leaders made progress on the nuclear issue, there was no sign of any relief from tensions over Taiwan. Biden said he supported the “one China” policy, with Washington recognizing Beijing as China’s sole seat of government but expressing concern over Chinese military activity near the island.
Xi warned him that anyone who supported advocates of Taiwanese independence was “playing with fire” and would “burn himself”.
Some experts believe that Beijing is expanding its arsenal to neutralize Washington’s ability to threaten China with nuclear weapons, which would make it easier for the Chinese military to beat the United States in a non-nuclear conflict over Taiwan.
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