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Preventing a US-China Nuclear Arms Race

With the US-China rivalry now lurching toward a Cold War-style nuclear arms race, talks are urgently needed to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. Even if the bilateral relationship is destined to be marked by mutual suspicion, mechanisms to establish strategic transparency are still available.

NEW YORK – China’s recently reported tests of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in July and August 2021, though officially denied, are threatening to undermine strategic nuclear stability. They have already added to escalating tensions between the United States and China.

Throughout the summer, satellite images revealed that China was in the process of building as many as 300 new missile silos in its northern deserts. Some of these silos are likely to be used merely as empty decoys. But if even half of them become sites for nuclear-armed missiles, it would represent a near-tripling of China’s nuclear arsenal.

Following these revelations, the US State Department warned in October that, “The rapid buildup of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal is concerning and threatens international security and stability. … We encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races and conflict.” But China’s Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, Li Song, fired back the same day, describing the US’ new pact with Australia and the United Kingdom (AUKUS) to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines as a “textbook case” of nuclear proliferation spurring a regional arms race.

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