Thank you very much for having me. I am grateful to join subject matter experts from near and far at this meeting because we are clearly at a pivotal moment in our relationship with the People’s Republic of China.
I want to thank all of you for your work. In many ways, academia and other people-to-people exchanges are the best form of international engagement, including with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese people. Your daily, informal collaboration creates opportunities for our nations to learn about each other, create stability, and help build trust when formal government relationships are strained.
As you are very aware, we have been very busy as Secretary Blinken returned from his long-anticipated trip to Beijing and then London this week. Let me just share a quick recap of his trip, followed by what this means for the work that I lead at the State Department, and our latest thoughts on the People Republic of China’s (PRC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities.
While in Beijing, Secretary Blinken met with senior PRC officials where he discussed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the U.S.-PRC relationship. He also raised bilateral issues of concern, global and regional matters, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges. In particular, the two sides discussed a range of global and regional issues, including Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s provocative actions.
The Secretary made clear that the United States will work with its allies and partners to advance our vision for a world that is free and open and upholds the rules-based international order. Both sides agreed to follow-on senior engagements in Washington and Beijing to continue open lines of communication. The Secretary invited PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin to Washington to continue the discussions, and they agreed to schedule a reciprocal visit at a mutually suitable time.
The Work of the Office of Arms Control and International Security
As the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (also known as “T” in State-speak), I sit at the crossroads of American diplomacy and security. I report directly to the Secretary of State on all matters related to the United States’ international security, and this includes all the work that has been done, and will be done, on engaging with the PRC
on arms control, risk reduction, and international security issues. Our mission is to lead the interagency policy process on, and manage, global U.S. security policy, including in the areas of nonproliferation, arms control, risk reduction, crisis management, regional security and defense relations, arms transfers, and security assistance.
I oversee three hardworking bureaus that focus on critical areas of international security when it comes to formally engaging the PRC. First is the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance – or AVC. It is the Bureau responsible for deterring conflict, managing escalation, and enhancing strategic stability using tools such as arms control treaties, other international agreements, and transparency and confidence-building measures. It manages the formal extended deterrence relationships between the United States and Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
AVC also engages the PRC in multilateral arms control and disarmament fora such as the Biological Weapons and Toxin Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Conference on Disarmament. AVC also currently leads the US efforts on New START and the P5 process, an engagement among the five nuclear-weapon States recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition to these multilateral channels, AVC is actively engaging countries on the development of responsible behaviors in critical areas such as outer space and artificial intelligence.
Additionally, we continue to impress upon the PRC the importance of resuming our chemical and biological weapons bilateral discussions. You can find more information on all our arms control concerns in the annual “Compliance Report,” which was delivered to Congress in April. An unclassified version is available on our website.
Second, the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation – or ISN – works to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, its delivery systems, and advanced conventional weapons capabilities. This includes leading U.S. government engagement on the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the BWC. ISN leads engagements on a diverse range of international and non-governmental partners in order to track, develop, and implement effective responses to proliferation threats – such as export controls and sanctions – and shape the international security environment to prevent recurrence. It also leads U.S. engagements on UNSCR 1540 and our involvement in the Proliferation Security Initiative – or PSI, through which more than 100 nations have pledged to take action to stop shipments of WMD, their delivery systems, and related items. PSI states cooperate to prevent proliferation and strengthen national capacities for action.
Last, but certainly not least, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs – or PM builds enduring security partnerships in the region and is also the Department of State’s principal link to the Department of Defense. The PM Bureau provides policy direction in the areas of international security,
security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade. Their work on Taiwan and Ukraine has grabbed many headlines of late. PM has been a constant, reliable partner to the entire Indo-Pacific region and partners globally on transfers of U.S.-origin military equipment and services, military training, as well as issues ranging from securing international airspace to the removal of landmines. I, myself, traveled to Vietnam last year to see the landmine removal firsthand.
Frequently across each of these bureaus, we pull together individual efforts to create stronger, lasting results. One such example is AUKUS. My office leads the State Department coordination of AUKUS implementation. As you may know, AUKUS is an enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States that is intended to enhance peace, security, and stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. In addition to other State Department bureaus and partners in the interagency, each of my bureaus plays a critical role for the AUKUS initiative.
For example, ISN ensures that Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines will be done in a manner that sets the highest nonproliferation standard and strengthens the nonproliferation regime. PM experts are implementing a novel use of existing export control authorities to expedite and optimize technology sharing and defense trade among the AUKUS partners. AVC, meanwhile, is bringing to bear its expertise in critical and emerging technology for the partnership.
Our Focus Areas related to the PRC
All this work is being done with an understanding of the broader context. Each daily formal interaction is valuable and creates stability in our relationship and the region. At the same time, it is clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is changing its security calculus and consequently, the PRC has engaged in a significant conventional and nuclear military build-up and becoming more aggressive over the last decade.
With an eye to the 100th anniversary of their rise to power, the CCP has stated its intent to develop the People’s Liberation Army into a world class military by 2049. Its strategy of Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) has enabled the CCP to systematically reorganize the Chinese science and technology enterprise to ensure that new innovations simultaneously advance economic and military development. This strategy has also been the means through which the PRC has been able to force technology transfers to benefit the People’s Liberation Army, invest in sensitive industries abroad, and dominate critical supply lines.
The CCP believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will drive the next revolution in military affairs, and that the first country to apply AI to next generation warfare will achieve military dominance. MCF aims to pave the way for the PRC to be the first country to transition to “intelligent warfare,” and therefore develop the military capabilities it sees as critical to achieving these goals.
In addition to AI, the CCP is investing in biotechnology, cyber, advanced civil nuclear technology, quantum computing and sensing, and space technology. It does this not just through its own research and development efforts, but also by acquiring and diverting the world’s cutting-edge technologies from abroad – including through theft – in order to achieve military dominance. The CCP specifically seeks to exploit the inherent ‘dual use’ nature of many of these technologies, which have both military and civilian applications.
We are clear eyed when it comes to the challenges before us. They are not small. In terms of its existing arms control commitments, the PRC continues to be a venue of concern for proliferation across chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons knowledge, precursors, components, and delivery systems. Its advanced scientific capability, massive manufacturing base, robust shipping and port system, and complex banking networks make it a challenging venue for regulation and enforcement even under the best of circumstances.
Furthermore, despite the CCP’s public denials, the United States assesses that the PRC could have as many as 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if it continues the current pace of its nuclear forces’ expansion. Let that sink in for a minute – 1,500 warheads up from a couple of hundred over the course of the next 12 years. Those of you in academia who track the PRC’s nuclear weapons program in the open source know that the PRC was satisfied to
keep relatively low numbers of warheads for decades, but that is now shifting under Xi Jinping’s leadership and evolving objectives.
Additionally, within the past three years, the PRC has built three new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo fields, that collectively provide it with more than 300 silos. Further advancements in the last few years also include establishing a comprehensive early-warning system by fielding several ground-based large, phased array radars and geostationary satellites capable of detecting ballistic missile launches. These systems combined with the silo fields indicate the PRC is shifting to a launch-on-warning posture. We have also seen the PRC developing advanced nuclear delivery systems, such as a long-range nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle and a fractional orbital bombardment system that are nuclear capable.
The PRC’s nuclear weapons expansion likely requires that it produce more fissile material. While it claims to support negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, the PRC is the only P5 state not to have committed to a moratorium on such production. It is doing so even as it pursues an advanced nuclear fuel cycle program that includes breeder reactors and reprocessing plutonium which it claims is for civil purposes. The PRC stopped submitting reports on its civil plutonium stocks more than five years ago, a practice the other P5 and other countries remain committed to. Additionally, the United States has ongoing concerns about the PRC’s nuclear testing activities, which may not have consistently adhered to the zero-yield standard.
In view of the PRC’s significant military and nuclear expansion and its lack of transparency regarding nuclear matters, we must acknowledge the growing risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding. We know from Cold War experience that communication and confidence-building measures are vital to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or miscalculation which could lead to escalation.
Regardless of these challenges, we remain positive and open to new, creative ideas. We know that we cannot rest on the old ways of engaging on security challenges. The President’s approach to the PRC is steadfast, and as the Secretary of State recently emphasized to President Xi, while the United States will compete vigorously with the PRC, both sides must responsibly manage competition so that the relationship does not veer into conflict. We will always do what is required to defend our interests. Still, we believe it is important to keep the lines of communication open, now more than ever, and we will continue to use diplomacy to raise areas of concern as well as areas of potential cooperation where our interests align.
Just a couple of weeks ago, National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan outlined our approach in a very useful way, and we can already see Chinese-language analysis of his speech in a way I find promising. NSA Sullivan expressed our willingness to engage in bilateral arms control and risk reduction discussions with both the PRC and Russia without preconditions, though not without accountability. We will continue to hold nuclear powers
accountable for reckless behavior and we will still hold our competitors responsible for upholding nuclear agreements.
He noted what we are already doing to reduce risk, but also new measures that we could create in the future. These measures can help reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation in times of crisis and build momentum toward further measures to manage nuclear risks and arms racing.
That is why we are committed to pushing nuclear weapons states to commit to responsible “human-in-the-loop” command and control systems, establish crisis communication channels, broaden the transparency around respective nuclear policies, doctrine, and budgeting, and to set up guardrails for managing the interplay between non-nuclear strategic capabilities and nuclear deterrence.
Yet, he called on us to do more, and this is where I think we should focus our expertise and ingenuity. This call transcends political or scientific boundaries. There remain many opportunities to build trust. For example, just a few days ago at the CTBTO S&T Conference, U.S. Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security Jill Hruby explained how the Department of Energy is considering live streaming its subcritical nuclear experiments so that others can observe how a responsible nuclear power is fulfilling its moratorium on nuclear testing. The PRC could do the same.
As we dive deeper into the issues, we should also reflect on more ways we can reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation. How can we leverage some of the existing programs the State Department runs and make them even more impactful in the region? How can we foster transparency, stability, and predictability around arms in the region? How can we create new initiatives and agreements that cement responsible behavior and norms around AI, biotechnology, quantum computing, and other rapidly evolving technologies? How can we reduce the chance of misunderstanding and misperception leading to conflict and escalation in domains such as cyber and space?
As the global leader in scientific and technical innovation, and as a responsible nuclear power, it is fully in our diplomatic and security interest to harness political, legal, and technical mechanisms to strengthen transparency and inject predictability into the system before we reach crisis. Such mechanisms do not always have to be cutting edge technology, mostly they need to be durable, reliable, and trustworthy even when participants do not always trust each other.
Thank you for your time today. Thank you for your continued work on issues of international security. It is difficult work and not for the faint of heart, but it is very necessary. As Secretary Blinken has already said, we are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we are determined to avoid both. We do not seek to block the PRC from its role as a major power, nor to stop the PRC – or any other country, for that matter – from growing their economy or advancing the interests of their people. But we will defend and strengthen the international law, agreements, principles, and institutions that maintain peace and security, protect the rights of individuals and sovereign nations, and make it possible for all countries – including the United States and the PRC – to coexist and cooperate.