U.S. and China Hold First Informal Nuclear Talks in 5 Years, Eyeing Taiwan

The United States and China resumed semi-official nuclear arms talks in March for the first time in five years, with Beijing’s representatives telling U.S. counterparts that they would not resort to atomic threats over Taiwan, according to two American delegates who attended.

The Chinese representatives offered reassurances after their U.S. interlocutors raised concerns that China might use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons if it faced defeat in a conflict over Taiwan. Beijing views the democratically governed island as its territory, a claim rejected by the government in Taipei.

“They told the U.S. side that they were absolutely convinced that they are able to prevail in a conventional fight over Taiwan without using nuclear weapons,” said scholar David Santoro, the U.S. organiser of the Track Two talks, the details of which are being reported by Reuters for the first time.


Participants in Track Two talks are generally former officials and academics who can speak with authority on their government’s position, even if they are not directly involved with setting it.
Government-to-government negotiations are known as Track One.

Washington was represented by about half a dozen delegates, including former officials and scholars at the two-day discussions, which took place in a Shanghai hotel conference room.


Beijing sent a delegation of scholars and analysts, which included several former People’s Liberation Army officers.
A State Department spokesperson said in response to Reuters’ questions that Track Two talks could be “beneficial”. The department did not participate in the March meeting though it was aware of it, the spokesperson said.

Such discussions cannot replace formal negotiations “that require participants to speak authoritatively on issues that are often highly compartmentalized within (Chinese) government circles,” the spokesperson said.
Members of the Chinese delegation and Beijing’s defence ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

The informal discussions between the nuclear-armed powers took place with the U.S. and China at odds over major economic and geopolitical issues, with leaders in Washington and Beijing accusing each other of dealing in bad faith.

The two countries briefly resumed Track One talks over nuclear arms in November but those negotiations have since stalled, with a top U.S. official publicly expressing frustration at China’s responsiveness.
The Pentagon, which estimates that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal increased by more than 20% between 2021 and 2023, said in October that China “would also consider nuclear use to restore deterrence if a conventional military defeat in Taiwan” threatened CCP rule.

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