Jakarta, CNBC Indonesia – The nuclear weapons program has appeared on the negotiating table following Russia’s suspension of the New START treaty. The United States (US) is starting to worry about China’s involvement in it.
The New START treaty limits the use and development of nuclear warheads with the United States (US), where this can dash hopes.
As is well known, regional diplomats and security analysts reportedly lowered the prospects for China to be able to join US-Russia talks, regarding the extension of the New START arms control agreement.
China’s nuclear arsenal is currently at the heart of concerns, as it grows in size and sophistication. Even the expansion is accelerating.
The Pentagon’s annual report on China released last November noted that Beijing appears to be accelerating its expansion by 2021 and now has more than 400 operational nuclear warheads.
Even so, this figure is still far below the US and Russian weapons deployed and in reserve.
By 2035, when the ruling Communist Party leadership wants its military to be fully modernized, China will likely have a stockpile of 1,500 nuclear warheads and an array of advanced missiles, the Pentagon said.
“Compared to traditional Russia-US exchanges, China is a ‘black’ box, but it’s getting bigger every year,” said an Asian security diplomat.
“Putin’s suspension may have set us back even further in terms of getting China to step up to the transparency table. There is so much we need to know about his policies and intentions”
In a speech ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Friday, President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow was suspending the agreement signed in 2010.
The agreement previously limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 that both the US and Russia could deploy, while providing inspections for mutual benefit.
Analysts say the move could jeopardize mutual deterrence between the two countries, which have long been the biggest nuclear powers and sparked an arms race among other nuclear powers.
Tong Zhao, a US-based nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he believed Putin’s move limited the prospects for US-China nuclear cooperation.
“This will only make China less and less interested in pursuing cooperative nuclear security with the United States,” Zhao said. “Right now even this latest example of arms control cooperation is being seriously undermined.”
A nuclear power since the early 1960s, China has for decades maintained a small number of nuclear warheads and missiles as a deterrent under its unique “no first use” pledge.
The promise remains official policy but the arsenal surrounding it has grown rapidly in recent years as part of Beijing’s broader military modernization under President Xi Jinping.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) even now has the capability to launch long-range nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, airplanes, and an expanded range of silos in China’s interior. This is feared by some experts could be used in the conflict over Taiwan.