The U.S. is set to hold rare nuclear arms control talks with China amid growing concerns over Beijing’s accelerated push to build up its arsenal of atomic weapons, according to an administration official.
The objective of the low-level discussions, scheduled to begin next week, is not to reduce the size of China’s arsenal. Instead, their purpose is to give the Biden administration a better understanding of China’s plans weeks after the Pentagon issued a report saying that the country was manufacturing nuclear weapons faster than expected.
The talks will occur as President Joe Biden prepares to meet China’s leader, Xi Jinping, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in less than two weeks. The sessions also highlight how the U.S. and China are gradually resuming a range of exchanges that had been cut short amid tensions over Taiwan, trade and other matters since Biden and Xi met at a Group of 20 summit in Bali a year ago.
The State Department and the National Security Council declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the talks. The newspaper said the U.S. would be represented by Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Mallory Stewart and China would send Sun Xiaobo, who leads the Chinese foreign ministry’s arms control department.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that “the two sides will hold exchanges on a range of issues.”
In October, the Pentagon issued a report saying China had about 500 nuclear warheads this year and plans to have more than 1,000 by 2030, a buildup that was faster than expected. The U.S. has some 3,700 nuclear warheads.
The U.S. is also anxious to head off a three-way nuclear arms race with Russia and China, especially with talks over extending the New Start treaty, which expires in 2026, stalled over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in June that the Biden administration was prepared to engage with Russia on nuclear arms control, but the buildup of China’s arsenal was complicating those efforts and had to be taken into account as the U.S. modernizes its force.
Sullivan said China’s plan to have as many as 1,500 warheads by 2035 marked “one of the largest peacetime nuclear buildups in history.”