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Director-General FU Cong's Interview with Kommersant

2020/10/16

On Octorber 15,Mr. FU Cong,Director-General of Department of Arms Control, took an interview with Ms. Elena Chernenko, Special Correspondent at the Russian Daily Newspaper Kommersant. During the interview, Director-General FU enunciated China's position on a number of issues related to global strategic stability and nuclear disarmament. The transcript is as follows: 

ELENA: Wonderful, I will start recording. The US insists that China should be involved in the arms control process, if not now, then in the near future. So under what conditions is Beijing ready to actually join the nuclear arms limitation agreements, only when the arsenals of Russia and the US go down? Or will the Chinese go to their level?

FU: Actually on the so-called trilateral negotiations proposed by the US, China has on numerous occasions reiterated its position, that is, given the huge disparity between the Chinese nuclear arsenal and that of the US and the Russian Federation, we simply do not believe that there is any fair and equitable basis for China to join the US and the Russian Federation in a nuclear arms control negotiation. But, and then, we continue to say that, of course, if the US commits itself to reducing its nuclear arsenal to a level comparable to the Chinese nuclear arsenal, we'll be happy to join. But frankly speaking, that is something that we do not foresee happening in the near future, maybe not in my lifetime.

But having said that,you can't say that China is not participating in the arms control process, because China is a very active member of the international community when it comes to arms control efforts.

For instance,when we talk about the CTBT(the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), China very actively participated in the negotiations and actually helped the conclusion of that treaty. And we also joined efforts in other multilateral arms control treaties like the Biological Weapons Convention. Actually, we all know the pandemic has given added significance to that treaty, and also to the CWC (the Chemical Weapons Convention). In the context of UN and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, China is a very active participant in the discussions concerning nuclear disarmament,the no-first-use and providing negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states, and also on issues related to outer space together with Russia.

So actually, China is a very active member of the international arms control efforts. And, of course, JCPOA, I don't need to elaborate on that, we all know who is detracting from the international efforts.

But when it comes to the trilateral negotiations, as I said, because of the huge differences in the size of arsenals, we don't believe that China is in a position to participate. Furthermore, let me add that, we actually see this as a trick on the part of the US, as a ploy to create a pretext, so that they can walk away from the New START treaty. And that's why we have been saying that we urge the two sides, the US and the Russian Federation,as a priority,to agree to the extension of the New START treaty unconditionally. But unfortunately...

ELENA: as Russia proposes?

FU:Exactly,we fully support the Russian proposal in that respect. But unfortunately, the prospect for that to happen is diminishing by the minute.

ELENA: You have mentioned the CTBT treaty, but China hasn't ratified it yet, right?

FU: That's true. China very actively facilitated the conclusion of that treaty, as I said. Because of the prevalent international security environment, in particular, the fact that the US has openly discussed resuming nuclear tests, and also what they have in the nuclear doctrine in the Nuclear Posture Review, and they talked about preparing the testing ground that can make the US able to conduct nuclear tests any time. So all these factors actually make Chinese ratification extremely difficult. I'm being quite frank here.

But having said that, we have to bear in mind one important point that, the CTBT, even though it has not come into force, it has already formed a sort of a taboo against nuclear testing. I think that is by itself a very important phenomenon. And as far as China is concerned, we have maintained our moratorium on nuclear testing. And also we have actually helped build up the international monitoring system. And China has been transmitting simultaneous, on-time data to the system. So China, even though has not ratified the treaty, is doing everything to facilitate the de-facto functioning of this mechanism.

ELENA: When it comes to the idea of multilateral arms control negotiation, would China be more willing to join them if France and Britain agree to participate?

FU: Well, first of all, let me point out that this is a hypothetical question. We have heard the proposal made by our Russian colleagues, but we haven't heard anything back from France and UK. That is the first point I want to make.

And Secondly,I want to point to a very important fact, which is the ongoing P5 mechanism on arms control issues,which is actually a China's initiative. Let me put it in a more accurate manner, China helped revitalize this process,that is a P5 consultation on a nuclear arms control issues. At China's initiative, the P5 have agreed to have ongoing dialogue on nuclear doctrines. And China is also advocating that we should expand the scope of the discussion among the P5 in terms of the subjects. For instance, we should expand the scope of the discussion to include issues of missile defense, outer space, and also the reduction of nuclear risks. And actually, we hope to make better use of this P5 mechanism so that we can have a proper platform to discuss all issues that affect global strategic stability. So, I think if we can make better use of this mechanism, we will go a long way towards building trust among the P5 and alleviating some of the concerns that non-nuclear weapon states and the nuclear weapon states have in the nuclear field.

Elena: Ah, well, the US authorities say that China may be already being at 1000 warheads. Marshall Billingslea has talked about such numbers as well. And so I'm wondering how close this is, from your point of view,to any reality.

FU: Actually, frankly speaking, we don't know where this number came from. And as a matter of fact, the US has given us a lot of variations when it comes to their assessment on the size of the Chinese nuclear arsenal. The latest one they gave is in the report issued by the Department of Defense, saying that the Chinese nuclear arsenal is in the low 200. I hope Billingslea has read that report. But whatever the figure is, I'm not in a position to confirm any of these figures.

But so this actually leads to the issue of nuclear transparency. And we think that, indeed, we heard some comments about China's a lack of transparency in the size and the number of nuclear warheads. Let me put this into perspective, when it comes to nuclear transparency, basically there are two aspects: one is the transparency in doctrines, the other is transparency in numbers.

When it comes to transparency in doctrine, I think China is the most transparent among all the nuclear weapon states. Because China's no-first-use policy is unconditional, and the only purpose of China's nuclear forces is to deter and to counterattack a nuclear attack. So I can't see how much more transparent you can be in the doctrinal aspect.

ELENA: And in terms of the numbers?

FU: When it comes to numbers. Indeed, because China maintains its unconditional no-first-use policy, because China's nuclear forces is extremely limited. So for the purpose of maintaining the effectiveness of the Chinese nuclear deterrence, it is important that China maintains certain degree of ambiguity in terms of its numbers, especially given the fact that the US, which regards China as the biggest competitor, is adopting such hostile policies towards China, has maintained such a huge nuclear arsenal, which goes up to 6000. And also the US, especially given the fact that the US adopts a very aggressive nuclear doctrine in terms of refusing to commit itself to no first use and actually enlarging the scenarios under which they would use nuclear weapons. Can you imagine that they are talking about using nuclear weapons against cyber attacks? And also we should not forget that the US is developing and deploying missile defense systems everywhere in the world. And that will undoubtedly undermine the effectiveness of the of China's nuclear deterrence. And also, we should not forget that after withdrawing from the INF Treaty, the US is talking about deploying very quickly intermediate range land-based missiles in the neighborhood of China. So all these are actually posing severe threats to Chinese security, and also to the survivability of China's nuclear forces. We have made that point very clear to the US. We say that the US planned deployment of the intermediate range land-based missiles in the neighborhood of China will undermine the strategic stability in this part of the world.

So under all these circumstances,you can't expect China to be both transparent in doctrine and transparent in numbers. So that is the whole situation. So we hope that the US can adopt a more rational approach when it comes to the nuclear issues.

ELENA: Is it fair to say that the Chinese arsenal is the third after Russia and the US?

FU: Well, first, let me say that it is unfair to put China in the same category as Russia and the US. Because we are talking about, according to the US assessment, Chinese arsenal, which is in the low 200. But when it comes to the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia, even after their reduction, they still have 6000 each. So you put China into the same category of Russia and the US? I think it is not correct. And that's why we think that the US, as you mentioned, the US is coming up with a very ridiculous concept. They are actually publicly saying that just recently in the First Committee of the United Nations general debate, they talked about the three largest nuclear weapon states. I think this is a very ridiculous concept. We will tell them that there are only two largest nuclear weapon states, there are no third largest nuclear weapon state. I don't want to comment on the specific numbers. I think it is more reasonable to put China in the same category as France and UK. Incidentally, in terms of absolute numbers, we don't know whether China is ahead of them or after them. As I said, we need to maintain a certain degree of ambiguity for the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrence, and we don't have strong allies as UK and France have.

ELENA:The ambiguity gives us the possibility to claim that China is rapidly increasing nuclear arsenal, you must have seen this comments from Marshall Billingslea that he made a few times,he said that they were comparing the Chinese parade from 2009 to the parade of 2019, where he said it has enlarged, like in 10 times and he claims that, well, you can see from this picture that the Chinese are increasing very rapidly. So the question is that China actually wants a plan to reach the level of, some kind of level compared to the US and Russia?

FU: Well, let me say this, we do not deny that China is modernizing its nuclear forces. But at the same time, we want to point out that is something that all the other nuclear weapon states are doing as well, including UK and France, and especially the US. We all know that the US is planning to spend 1.2 trillion US dollars to upgrade its nuclear arsenal in the next three decades. And they are developing new types of nuclear warheads that can be used in the battlefield. So I think, under such circumstances,criticizing China for modernizing his nuclear force is not a reasonable proposition.

But at the same time, we let me emphasize one thing, that China's policy of minimum deterrence will not change. And that is, we will only maintain our nuclear forces at the minimum level required for our national security. And that is something not as an expediency as we always say, it is based on a strategic choice. And that strategic choice is based on our fundamental understanding of the nature of nuclear forces. As we explained earlier, we see nuclear forces as the ultimate deterrence, and that is the only use for the nuclear force, and it is not something that can be used in the battlefield. So,because of this fundamental understanding of the nature of nuclear forces, China does not find it necessary even to enlarge too much its nuclear forces. When we say that we will maintain our nuclear forces at the minimum level required for national defense, that is something genuine and we mean that, and that is a policy that will not change. Because we all know that if China wants to expand this nuclear forces, China has the financial and technical means to do that. It is our strategic choice not to pursue that path.

ELENA: How about that argument from your American colleagues that this one opinion piece recently came out from the Chinese press, that China should enlarge until 1000 warheads is a direct proof of the plans of the Chinese government, because no way this opinion piece would have appeared without the consensus of the government.

FU: I don't know why they attach so much importance to that. But we have said that publicly by our ambassador in the CD and also by our our spokesperson here in the foreign ministry, this is an opinion of a journalist. He wrote a piece, and it is not endorsed by anybody. But we need to emphasize one thing. That is we need to understand the background of this piece of article. That is,when the US is pursuing a very aggressive policy against China, there was an uproar in the Chinese public opinion that we need to maintain a strong military force and also a strong military posture. But let me say,that does not represent the position of the Chinese government.

ELENA: Thanks very much, Mr. FU. And one of the reasons that the American are saying that China should join the arms control talk is that it's a club of great powers and it's a privilege to join in and responsibility. So is that an argument for China to join this great power?

FU: Well, let me say that China does not aspire to become a superpower,least of all, in the nuclear field. We all know what nuclear superpower means. We know what crazy things the two nuclear superpowers did during the Cold War. So they have built up their nuclear forces to the number of 30,000 nuclear warheads each. So we have learned the historical lessons from others' mistakes,and we do not aspire to become a nuclear superpower. So that is not something that will attract China into the the trilateral negotiations.

ELENA:Is China's practice about the proposal from the US have in a way been affected by the fact that the Americans themselves withdraw from one arms control and nonproliferation treaty after another?

FU: Well, as I said, the reason why we refuse to participate in the so-called the trilateral negotiations was because of the huge disparity in the size of the nuclear arsenals. But let me also hasten to add that, the fact that the US has withdrawn from all these arms control treaties and international agreements, has seriously undermined the credibility of the United States as a negotiator. And Mr. Billingslea keeps talking about negotiating in good faith, I don't know how much good faith he has, or the US government has. At least from what they have done, we do not see much of that. And what they have done to all these arms control treaties, has not only seriously undermined the US credibility, but more importantly, it has undermined the international strategic stability. And we all know arms control treaties and agreements constitute very important pillars for the security architecture, and by destroying all these treaties, and they are actually undermining the peace and security of the world. And this is actually only one of the things that shows how reckless the current US government is, when it comes to security issues.

ELENA: But if it changes administration, will it kind of make you change your view on that?

FU: Well, we know that the US general election is coming very soon. And I don't want to make any comments that may be interpreted by the US as interfering in their internal affairs or in their general election.

ELENA: Oh, I like that.

FU:Well, let me just say that, actually China and the US,as two big countries, we share a lot of common interests on security issues, including on arms control issues. There are many things that the two sides can talk about. We are open to dialogues with the US. These negotiation or dialogues can cover issues like strategic stability, the nuclear risk reductions, and also the no first use, and also the missile defense. And there are a whole range of issues that the two sides can have very meaningful discussions. But all these discussions must be based on equality and mutual respect, and it should not become something that one side wants to blackmail the other side on. Unfortunately, from the limited contact I had with Billingslea, he doesn't inspire too much confidence in me in that respect.

ELENA: Thank you so much, Mr. FU. One last question, and you actually have already alluded to that. So if the US changes kind of its proposal of, kind of this notion of including China in its current form,would China be actually interested in multilateral agreements or bilateral agreements with the US? For example, missile defense, or for preventing the escalation or limitation of hypersonic weapons or maybe offensive cyber technologies and militarization of space. But I'm especially asking about missile defense.

FU: Well, actually, this is one of the issues that we would insist having discussions on in any bilateral dialogue between China and the US. And whether we'll be able to reach agreement is another matter. But I think some dialogue, some conversation on that issue will be very useful. And actually, we believe that this is an issue that should not be confined to the China and the US bilateral negotiations. Actually, as I said, in the context of the P5 consultations, it is a very legitimate question. As we always say,the nuclear weapons and missile defense are two sides of the same coin. So, if we really want to discuss strategic stability,the nuclear disarmament and also the reducing of nuclear risks, all these issues... you cannot neglect the issue of missile defense, and we will be very much in favor of discussing this. Yes.

-End of the Transcript-

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