First steps on a long path: seizing the opportunity to reduce US-China nuclear risks

July 18, 2023
Miles Pomper

The following is an excerpt from The Diplomatic Pouch.

China’s growing military might has raised alarm bells in Washington and led to close encounters with U.S. military ships and planes over contested territories in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits. Top U.S. officials have sought to bolster communication to prevent crises and calm relations and to initiate discussions on measures to build confidence and reduce nuclear risks within the bilateral relationship. To date, they largely have been rebuffed by China’s leaders, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken emerging empty-handed from a June meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping where he sought the restoration of military-military ties.

Nevertheless, changing circumstances — from the mutual desire to end the war in Ukraine to China’s slowing economy and the need to improve trade relations with the United States and Europe — may provide a window for compromise. Indeed, Blinken’s visit to Beijing is part of an accelerating series of meetings among top officials from the two countries, which will include a reciprocal visit to Washington by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and may culminate in a summit between Xi and President Biden. The two countries should take advantage of this opportunity to make progress on measures that would reduce instability and the risks that a crisis between them could escalate to the point of nuclear war.

In particular, the United States and Russia have accumulated a long history of arms control, risk reduction, and confidence-building measures — ranging from formal arms control agreements like the New START treaty to measures intended to provide greater transparency of conventional military movements on land and sea to minimize dangerous encounters and their potential escalation to the nuclear level. While the two countries cannot simply replicate these measures in the Asian context, there is a broad menu of options that Biden, Xi, and their teams could look to for inspiration.

Continue reading at The Diplomatic Pouch.

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