Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to start “strategic stability negotiations” to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. This was an unexpected breakthrough in a “virtual conference” that focused on stabilizing US-China relations that have deteriorated to the lowest level in four decades.
The President of the United States pointed out at the beginning of a three-hour video conference with his Chinese counterparts that a “guard fence” is needed to ensure that the fierce competition between the two countries does not “turn to conflict.”
Although it is difficult enough to implement safeguards on issues such as Taiwan – Beijing claims that the island has become the most dangerous hotspot in Asia since Biden took office – but extending it to the emerging nuclear competition between the two superpowers will be a bigger one. Challenges.
Evan Medros, the current Georgetown University Barack Obama’s Asian affairs adviser, said he was “skeptical” about the new nuclear program revealed by the US national security adviser Jack Sullivan.
“It’s a good idea to put a’guard fence’ around nuclear weapons in theory, but can it be done in practice in an era of extreme distrust and fast-growing capabilities?” Medros asked.
“Will Xi Jinping authorize senior officials, including the People’s Liberation Army, to engage in meaningful dialogue with the United States on nuclear weapons, space, and the Internet? [issues]? ”
Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury International Institute, also questioned the possibility of success. “Holding talks is a necessary first step, but the real question is whether the two sides have substantive content to say,” he said.
The United States has previously tried to involve China in nuclear negotiations, but these efforts have failed, mainly because when the United States had a larger nuclear arsenal, Beijing did not see the value of negotiation restrictions.
In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army has substantially increased its nuclear weapons program, which shows that China is abandoning its 50-year “minimum deterrence” policy. Last week, the Pentagon stated that the PLA intends to quadruple its nuclear warheads to at least 1,000 by 2030.
Rein Haas, an expert on China at the Brookings Institution, said that this week’s meeting may “open a window for both sides to test whether progress can be made in reducing strategic risks.”
He added that possible agreements might include “understanding that all nuclear launch decisions must be made by humans and not by artificial intelligence systems, or [refraining from] Space activities that generate orbital debris”.
“The video call shows that China-US relations have at least finally bottomed out,” added Wang Chong, professor of foreign affairs at Zhejiang International Studies University. “now [the relationship] It is not so much confrontation and conflict as it is competition. “
Few experts expect that the United States and China will resolve their differences on the Taiwan issue, and Beijing often deploys its air force near the island to threaten Taiwan. Biden stated that he supports the “one China” policy of the United States that recognizes Beijing as the seat of government, and also expressed concern about China’s military activities around Taiwan.
However, when emphasizing the gap, Xi Jinping told Biden that the Taiwan government and anyone who supports Taiwan independence may cross Beijing’s “red line” on this issue. He added that this is “playing with fire” and will only succeed in “self-immolation”.
“Xi Jinping blames Taiwan [the] Tensions have increased the threat to China’s red line,” said Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. She added that Biden at least “assures Xi that the United States remains committed to the’One China’ policy.”
One difficulty facing the two presidents is their different views on what constitutes a more stable bilateral relationship. Although Washington stated that Beijing’s actions on a series of issues are not a responsible international actor, China’s focus is to prevent it from thinking that the United States is interfering in Taiwan and Hong Kong’s “core” interests, where Xi Jinping has used tough national security repressions. The laws of the democratic movement in the territory.
Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, the top diplomat of the Chinese Communist Party, laid the foundation for the meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping at a meeting in Switzerland last month.
According to people familiar with the matter, Yang told Sullivan that Xi Jinping hopes to achieve stability before the annual meeting of the Central Committee in November, the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, and the Chinese Communist Party Congress at the end of 2022, and he is expected to ensure stability at the meeting. An unprecedented third term.
“Xi Jinping will focus on domestic politics next year,” said Paul Hanler, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing. “He will do everything he can to reduce the uncertainty in the U.S.-China relationship, put the relationship on a more stable basis, and reduce the risk of complicating his own domestic political goals.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing