Despite President Trump’s claim that China feels “very strongly” about joining a nuclear deal with the US and Russia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced on Monday that his country won’t take part in a three-way nuclear negotiation with the US and Russia.
Last month, President Trump instructed his administration to draft a nuclear agreement which would see both Russia and China as signatories, and which would replace New START, which is set to expire in February 2021.
Trump has been insisting it’s important China joins the US and Russia in a nuclear deal. Firstly, because an agreement between only the US and Russia reflects a “Cold War mentality,” and is therefore obsolete in today’s multipolar world. Secondly, because the US, Russia and China should “come together and […] spend on things that maybe are more productive toward long-term peace,” hence avoiding the cost of a possible nuclear arms race.
China is being rather vague about the reason(s) why it won’t commit to a nuclear agreement with the US and Russia. When asked whether China would join a new INF agreement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang merely said such commitment would involve “a series of complex issues.” However, last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang asserted that a reason for China’s unwillingness to sign a multilateral treaty is that the US seemingly can’t be trusted with deals of this sort.
The truth is that China does not, under any circumstance, want to take part in nuclear arms agreements with the US and Russia. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the Chinese nuclear arsenal isn’t even remotely comparable to the size or capability of the US’ or Russia’s. In other words, China isn’t even “playing the same game” as the other two countries.
Shuang explained how it’s not fair to compare the US’ and Russia’s nuclear stockpile with China’s, and claimed it’s the responsibility of the US and Russia, who combined possess over 13,000 nukes, to sign a deal which will limit their respective arsenals.
Avoiding an Arms Race
As some experts noted, Trump’s constant reference to China and the possibility of having it join a nuclear deal might be interpreted as a clear sign of his intention not to extend New START – a highly dangerous and irresponsible move for international nuclear security.
Rather than wasting time on envisioning a new, unrealistic deal, the Trump administration should concentrate on making sure the US doesn’t find itself in a situation where the two most powerful nuclear countries on Earth are suddenly free to expand their nuclear arsenals without any constraints by a nuclear arms agreement.
Time’s running out
As much as President Trump would like to come up with a brand-new “deal” that would put his brand on the arms control world, there simply isn’t enough time to outline a new treaty. The US and Russia were only able to formulate New START after a series of failed attempts, namely START II and START III – who knows how long it would take to draft an agreement that pleased the US, Russia, and China.
What’s more, the US doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the impelling expiration date of New START, with a White House official claiming, “We don’t have to have a discussion right now about an extension.”
On the contrary, Russia is starting to send signals of impatience. On April 15th, Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov claimed this isn’t an issue “that could be resolved in a couple of weeks.” As a matter of fact, Russia has already confirmed its desire to extend the treaty, and the US’ indecisiveness is only a waste of time for both parties involved.
Perhaps, it might be time for the US to start believing China when it says it will never participate in multilateral nuclear arms agreements, at least for the time being. Just like it might be time to accept the fact that, for the sake of international security, renewing New START is currently the safest and wisest option.