China hits out at US missile plans, calls for cuts to US and Russian nuclear arsenals

Laura Zhou in Beijing, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jun 13 2021 08:40 AM

China has criticised the United States over plans to deploy missiles and defensive systems in neighbouring countries and called for cuts to the American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments in an address to the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament in which he also called for fresh efforts to advance nuclear talks with Iran and criticised Washington's "unilateral bullying".

Wang was speaking days after the Biden administration lifted some of its sanctions on Iran before a new round of talks in Vienna on Saturday.

It also came ahead of next week's summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

"The comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue is an important multilateral diplomatic achievement endorsed by the UN Security Council in its resolutions and is a key pillar of international nuclear non-proliferation and peace and stability in the Middle East," Wang said, according to a transcript published by the Chinese foreign ministry.

"The unilateral bullying behaviour by the US is the root cause of the Iranian nuclear issue. And lifting the sanctions against Iran is the right logic for returning to the comprehensive agreement."

Beijing has threatened in the past to take countermeasures if the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Asia - something the previous administration had hinted at - and urged US allies not to host the weapons.

It also reacted angrily when the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system was installed in South Korea and triggered an unofficial economic boycott.

"China opposes the development and deployment of regional and global anti-missile defence systems that undermine strategic stability by a certain country, and China opposes the deployment of land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles by the same country in the neighbourhood of other countries," Wang said in a veiled reference to the US.

Wang said that while China would never "compete with any countries in the scales or numbers" of nuclear weapons, "the two largest nuclear weapon powers should further reduce their respective nuclear arsenals significantly in a verifiable, irreversible and legally binding manner, thereby creating the conditions for a multilateral nuclear disarmament process".

Beijing has not disclosed how many warheads it has, but an assessment by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put the number at 320, which is far fewer than Russia's 54,000 or the 70,000 US warheads.

The US has pushed to include China, now seen by Washington as a geopolitical competitor, in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia - a proposal Beijing has so far rejected.

Last month, the US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood told a UN conference in Geneva that Beijing was resisting bilateral talks with the US over nuclear weapons.

That claim was rejected by China's envoy Ji Zhaoyu, who said that China was "ready to carry out positive dialogue and exchanges with all parties to jointly explore effective measures to reduce nuclear risk and to contribute to global strategic security".

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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