By Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler, CNN
Updated 6:58 PM EDT, Thu July 09, 2020
Washington(CNN) China issued a stinging response to a US statement Thursday that welcomed Beijing’s willingness to engage in arms control talks.
Beijing has “no interest” in any such negotiations, a statement by Chinese embassy in Washington said.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Thursday in a statement that the United States “welcomes China’s commitment to engage in arms control negotiations,” a day after a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would be happy to join talks if the US agreed to lower its number of nuclear weapons to match China’s.
“I can assure you that if the US says that they are ready to come down to the Chinese level (of nuclear weapons), China will be happy to participate the next day. But actually, we know that’s not going to happen,” Fu Cong, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, said at a press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.
Fu was referring to the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to renegotiate the New START Treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control pact — and the US insistence that any renewed treaty should include China.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, cast Fu’s comments in a positive light during an online defense forum organized by the European Union, calling them “positive indications and evolutions in the Chinese position.”
“Frankly, it sounds a little like we’re pre-negotiating,” Billingslea said. Characterizing Fu’s comments as a “stated willingness to engage in negotiations, albeit with some preconditions,” the US nuclear envoy said it “seems to us the prudent next step will be to sit down for discussions. … I would recommend they also sit down with Russia.”
Critics say the US insistence that Beijing join the agreement is an attempt by Trump administration officials who oppose international arms control treaties to create a poison pill that guarantees negotiations will fail. Beijing has repeatedly rejected the idea of taking part in the talks because its nuclear arsenal — estimated to be around 320 weapons — is a fraction of the 5,000 warheads that Russia and the US are thought to possess.
Billingslea has said that China is engaged in a “rapid buildup” aimed at achieving “nuclear parity” with the US and Russia. The US has briefed other nations on its intelligence about China’s nuclear program, Billingslea has said.
On Thursday, Ortagus said Billingslea “will invite the Chinese government to join in good faith negotiations in Vienna, Austria. The United States also recommends that China meet with Russia at an early date to consider next steps for trilateral arms control negotiations. We will all bring different perspectives and objectives to the negotiating table and will surely have disagreements. But it is time for dialogue and diplomacy between the three biggest nuclear weapons powers on how to prevent a new arms race.”
But a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said China “has no interest in joining Russia and the US in their bilateral negotiations” and pointed to a recent news briefing in which Fu assailed US policies.
In remarks to the press in June, Fu had noted that “US officials have recently been making a lot of noises about China joining the US-Russia negotiation on nuclear arms reduction. They even went so far as to tweeting a staged photo,” a reference to a photo Billingslea tweeted that showed Chinese flags at a table before a meeting with Russia.
“Vienna talks about to start. China is a no-show,” the nuclear envoy wrote in the June 22 tweet, even though there was no expectation that China would participate. “Beijing still hiding behind #GreatWallofSecrecy on its crash nuclear build-up and so many other things. We will proceed with #Russia, notwithstanding.”
“China has made its position known on numerous occasions,” Fu said, referring to the photo and Beijing’s longstanding refusal to engage.
The Chinese official said that given “the huge gap” between China’s nuclear arsenal and that of the US and Russia, “it is unrealistic” to expect China to join the negotiations.
“The US knows full well the huge gap between the Chinese and American nuclear arsenals, both in terms of quantity and sophistication. And they are bent on increasing this huge gap,” Fu said.
The Trump administration has focused on developing new nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon deployed a new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear weapon, the first new US nuclear weapon in decades. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review warned that adversaries might believe they could use a smaller nuclear weapon against the US or its allies without fear of US nuclear retaliation because American weapons are disproportionately more destructive.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report