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US dismisses Chinese proposal for no-first-use treaty between nuclear-armed states

THE US has dismissed Chinese calls for a no-first-use treaty between nuclear weapons states, saying it has questions about its sincerity.

US Undersecretary of State Bonnie Jenkins, the country’s top arms control official, told the Senate foreign relations committee on Wednesday night that the US worried China had increased its number of nuclear warheads to over 500, might have 1,000 by 2030, and that this undermined its treaty proposal.

The figures are speculative, based on US government estimates and not acknowledged by China. 

The US says China refuses to engage in nuclear disarmament talks with it, but China says the US and Russia, which each have over 6,000 nuclear warheads — between them 88 per cent of the global total — should disarm to a lower level before expecting countries with much smaller arsenals to do so.

Of acknowledged nuclear weapons states, only China and India have an official no-first-use policy, that they will only launch a nuclear strike if one is launched against them first.

China also stores its warheads and delivery systems separately, to avoid the risk of launches by accident or misunderstanding, as almost happened in 1983, when Soviet lieutenant Stanislav Petrov recognised reports of incoming US missiles as a system malfunction and prevented a retaliatory strike which could have begun World War III.

China called in February for a treaty between nuclear powers to commit to no-first-use policies to reduce the risk of nuclear war, perceived to have grown since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but other countries have so far ignored the call.

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