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Arms treaty must include China: Merkel

2019-02-17 HKT 01:07
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  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, shake hands during a meeting at the Munich Security Conference. Photo: AP
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, shake hands during a meeting at the Munich Security Conference. Photo: AP
China must be involved in international disarmament efforts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday, amid rising concern about Beijing's missile arsenal and the suspension of a key US-Russia arms treaty.

Fears that the web of agreements limiting the proliferation of nuclear warheads and other weapons could be in jeopardy have grown since Washington and Moscow announced their withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

But Merkel's call to launch a fresh push for disarmament and to include rising military power China met with a brisk rebuff from a top Beijing official -- and was simply ignored by senior US and Russian figures.

"Disarmament is something that concerns us all and we would of course be glad if such talks were held not just between the United States, Europe and Russia but also with China," Merkel told the Munich Security Conference.

Washington began pulling out of the INF treaty this month in response to Moscow's deployment of a new missile system the US and NATO say violates the accord, prompting Russia to announce its own withdrawal.

Neither US Vice President Mike Pence nor Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to Merkel's call in their speeches at the conference.

Unless Washington or Moscow changes course, the INF -- which banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres -- will cease to function in August.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he had seen no indication Russia might be willing to back down in talks he held with Lavrov on Friday.

The alliance has been urging Russia to save the treaty by abandoning the controversial 9M279 missile system, which officials say can hit capital cities throughout Europe as far as London.

While pointing the finger at each other, both Washington and Moscow have also voiced concern that the INF does nothing to constrain China's rapidly growing military power.

"For several years, the Pentagon has been concerned about the imbalance, according to it, between Chinese and North Korean ballistic and cruise missiles and American resources in the region," France's Foundation for Strategic Research said in a recent report.

Germany is organising an international conference in Berlin next month to start talks about how to create an arms control regime to replace the one forged in the bipolar Cold War era.

But it will be difficult to persuade China to give up or restrict what represents an important part of its military capability.

According to a new report by the Institute for Strategic Studies, up to 95 percent of China's arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles would be in breach of the INF if Beijing were party to it.

Given this, "it is difficult to envision a scenario under which China would today enter a regime such as the INF Treaty," the report said.

And Yang Jiechi, a senior Chinese foreign policy official, unequivocally confirmed Bejing's unwillingness to submit to the INF.

"China develops its capabilities strictly according to its defensive needs and doesn't pose a threat to anybody else," Yang told the conference. "So we are opposed to the multilateralisation of INF."

The peril the INF faces has raised concerns about another major US-Russia arms control treaty, New START, which limits strategic nuclear weapons and will expire in 2021.

Lavrov recalled that President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is "ready to start negotiations on the extension of this treaty", but the minister warned that "time flies fast".

"So far we were not offered any meaningful consultations, but we keep trying," Lavrov said. (AFP)