U.S. allies in Asia on Wednesday welcomed President Barack Obama’s new policy aimed at reducing the likelihood of nuclear conflict, while powerhouse China was silent over his call for Beijing to better explain its nuclear intentions.
In a much-awaited announcement, Mr. Obama vowed on Tuesday to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal, refrain from nuclear tests and not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them. North Korea and Iran were not included in that pledge because they do not cooperate with other countries on non-proliferation standards.
Some U.S. allies, which benefit from being under the U.S. nuclear defence umbrella, were concerned they would be left vulnerable by a change in Washington’s policy. But Mr. Obama’s statement appeared to defuse many such concerns.
“This is a first step toward a nuclear-free world,” said Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. “Deterrence is important, but so is reducing nuclear arsenals. We highly regard his stance.”
Katsuya Okada, Japan’s foreign minister, noted that Japan, which is located near North Korea, China and Russia but has decided not to develop nuclear weapons of its own, was concerned about how the policy will affect its security.
“The United States had assured its allies that this position will not endanger them,” he said. “This is important.”
In South Korea, the foreign and defence ministries issued a joint statement saying the new U.S. stance would strengthen Washington’s commitment to its allies and pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development.
“The government welcomes and supports” Mr. Obama’s announcement, they said. There was no immediate reaction to Mr. Obama’s plan from North Korean state media.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also welcomed the announcement.
“President Obama made good on his pledge a year ago to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policies and set the world on a path to a nuclear-weapons-free world,” he said in a statement. “The review clearly states the long-term objective of U.S. policy is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, and implements the first of the actions that will be needed to get there.”
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment on the new U.S. nuclear defence policy, which also calls on China to explain its nuclear intentions more clearly.
“China’s nuclear policy and China’s strategic intentions are clear. Since the 1960s we have repeated our position on many occasions and our position has never been changed,” Mr. Cui said, without elaborating. “I believe people with fair and just minds will not question China’s position.”
Beijing, which is said to have 100 nuclear warheads, has said it would not be the first to attack with nuclear weapons.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is to travel to Washington to take part in an April 12-13 nuclear summit that will focus on securing nuclear material to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The meeting is expected to bring together about 46 leaders.
One Chinese expert strongly criticized Obama’s call for more transparency from Beijing on its nuclear capabilities.
“I think Mr. Obama’s comments are way out of line,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations and director of the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University. “China has always been guided by the principle that China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons.”
Mr. Shi noted that while China has only about 100 nuclear warheads, the U.S. has 10,000.
“China is doing a lot better than the U.S.,” he said. “The U.S. is not in the position to teach China any lessons, although it has a lot to teach China in other fields. The U.S. should be more cautious.”