On Monday, a Newsweek op-ed co-authored by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US arms control envoy Marshal Billingslea was republished on the State Department website under the title, “China’s Nuclear Madness.”
In the piece, the US officials accused Beijing of being the “least transparent” of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council when it comes to nuclear weapons. They also complained about how the US has been restrained by “ineffective arms-control agreements” while China has been building its arsenal.
Hua Chunying, China’s China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, hit back and accused the US of conducting “lying diplomacy.” Hua said the US “arbitrarily” withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an arms control agreement that limited the development of medium-range ballistic missiles, that the Trump administration pulled out of in 2019.
Hua said Beijing’s No First Use (NFU) policy would not change, something the op-ed claimed was being undermined by China’s “aggressive” nuclear posture. NFU is a pledge taken by nuclear powers not to use nuclear weapons as an offensive weapon. China and India are the only two nuclear-armed countries that have maintained an NFU pledge, making Beijing the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to adopt the policy.
Pompeo and Billingslea also mentioned the New START treaty in the op-ed. The New START is the last nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia that will expire on February 5th. As President Trump’s envoy for arms control negotiations, Billingslea made unreasonable demands of the Russians and squandered the talks.
Russia has repeatedly offered to extend the treaty for five years with no preconditions, but the Trump administration rejected the offer. It’s now up to Joe Biden to quickly accept Moscow’s offer after he comes into office on January 2oth.
One of the demands Billingslea made of Russia was to include China in talks on the New START. But China has no interest in trilateral arms control agreements at this time since its arsenal is vastly smaller than the US and Russia’s. Current estimates put Beijing’s stockpile at 320 nuclear warheads, while the US and Russia each have around 6,000 warheads.