China calls US invite to nuclear talks a ploy to derail them

BEIJING (AP) — A senior Chinese arms control official called U.S. pressure to join nuclear arms talks with Russia an American ploy to avoid signing a new deal, and said China would gladly participate if the U.S. would agree to parity among all three nations.

“I can assure you that if the U.S. says that they are ready to come down to the Chinese level, China will be happy to participate the next day,” Fu Cong, the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, said Wednesday. “But actually, we know that that’s not going to happen.”

Fu spoke to journalists in Beijing after the U.S. pointedly noted the Chinese absence at talks with Russia in Vienna two weeks ago on extending or replacing NEW Start, a 2010 arms reduction treaty that expires in Feburary.

The pact is between the U.S. and Russia, long the world’s major nuclear powers. The Trump administration wants China, as a rising military power, to join.

Fu called that demand unrealistic because China has a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the other two. By inviting China to join, the U.S. is creating a pretext to walk away from the talks without replacing the treaty, he said.

“The real purpose is to get rid of all the restrictions and have a free hand in seeking military superiority over any adversary, real or imagined,” he said of U.S. intentions.

U.S. negotiator Marshall Billingslea told reporters after the talks in Vienna that any new agreement must subject China to restrictions. He expressed hopes that others in the international community would pressure China to join the talks in the future.

“A three-way nuclear arms control deal, in our view, has the best chance of avoiding an incredibly destabilizing three-way nuclear arms race,” he said.

Fu said the U.S. and Russia should agree to reduce their arsenals first, and then China and others can join nuclear arms reduction efforts.

New START imposes limits on the number of U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers. It can be extended by five years by mutual consent, which is what Russia is proposing to do.

The treaty is the last nuclear arms agreement between the two nations, after the Trump administration scrapped an intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty last year. That pact was also criticized because it did not cover China.

Fu said that U.S. missile defense systems in Asia, and its talk of deploying medium-range missiles in the region too, pose a strategic threat to China.

He wouldn’t comment on China’s nuclear weapons plans, but said it should not come as a surprise to anyone that China feels a need to improve its military capabilities.