German minister to visit US as conflict over Ukraine escalates – China rejects US nuclear claims

Nord Stream 2 pipe-laying operations in German territorial waters

GERMANY’S Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said she plans to reiterate the value of dialogue with Russia to avoid a conflict over Ukraine when she meets her US counterpart in her Washington visit.

‘With regard to Russia, the common message from Europeans and the US government is clear: Russian actions come with a clear price tag, and the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue,’ Baerbock said in a statement on Wednesday just ahead of her first official visit to Washington, where she is due to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
‘We are entering a decisive phase in which important talks at different levels are imminent,’ she added. ‘And even if the formats of the talks vary, our messages as transatlantic partners to the government in Moscow are always the same.’
The current visit to the US by Germany’s top diplomat, which will involve her second meeting with Blinken, comes amid rising tensions between the member nations of the US-led NATO military alliance and Russia over Ukraine and Western allegations of a Russian troop build-up on the Ukraine border aimed at staging a potential invasion of its neighbour.
This is while US and Russian officials are due to hold security talks on January 10 in Geneva and NATO has scheduled a meeting of allied ambassadors and top Russian officials for January 12.
‘The more difficult the times are, the more important strong partnerships are – and as Europeans, we have no partner stronger than the US,’ she said. ‘With my trip to Washington, I want to make it very clear … what great importance we attach to transatlantic relations,’ Baerbock further stated.
German-US ties hit a comparatively low point during the last US administration of Donald Trump, who was often seen as snubbing traditional allies. The current US government headed by Joe Biden has repeatedly said it wants to restore such alliances to their former status.
Despite Baerbock’s assertion of transatlantic unity in response to Russia, the pipeline Nord Stream 2, which is intended to carry Russian gas to Europe, may prove to be a point of contention.
The US has long opposed the project, claiming that it could lead to over-reliance on Russia for energy needs, though it eventually reached an agreement with Germany on how it could acceptably go ahead.
Baerbock’s own party, the Greens, shares the US reservations, but its coalition partners, the Social Democrats, have always been among the pipeline’s strongest advocates.
Germany is also becoming ever more reliant on imported energy as it shuts down its nuclear and coal facilities.
Baerbock also spoke about the storming of the US Capitol last January by pro-Trump rioters protesting the electoral defeat of the former president in November 2020.
Noting that her visit comes a day before the anniversary of the incident, Baerbock stated that she would discuss with Pelosi ways of defending democracy from external and internal threats.
‘And what is decisive with these issues, too, is that we will only be successful if we tackle the challenges together as partners,’ she underlined, adding: ‘This includes strengthening democratic institutions in our own countries as well and making it more visible what enormous value they have for our lives.’
Taiwan’s air force has meanwhile conducted a drill simulating a war situation to show the self-ruled island’s combat readiness amid heightened tensions with Beijing.
The exercises were carried out at a base in the southern city of Chiayi on Wednesday, where Taiwanese jets took off into the sky as part of a three-day drill to show off the self-governed island’s military prowess ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of this month.
Flight crews rushed to ready aircraft as an alarm sounded before takeoff at the base, home to US-made F-16 fighter jets, which frequently scrambles jets to intercept Chinese planes.
Major Yen Hsiang-sheng told reporters that with the very high frequency of Chinese planes entering Taipei’s self-designated air defence identification zone (ADIZ), ‘pilots from our wing are very experienced and have dealt with almost all types of their aircraft’.
The latest development comes as tensions among Chinese Taipei, China, and the United States have been at their highest in decades.
China has been flying fighter jets close to Chinese Taipei while the US has reportedly had troops deployed in the territory for the past year for alleged training purposes.
China flew 150 planes over Taipei’s self-designated air defence identification zone in the first five days of October. Taipei’s defence ministry described the show of force as an ‘incursion’.
Last month, President Joe Biden said the US would come to Taipei’s aid if it were to come under attack from China, claiming it had a commitment to defend the self-ruled island. China blasted the statement, accusing Washington of meddling in Chinese internal affairs.
China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the ‘One China’ policy, almost all world countries recognise that sovereignty.
The US, too, recognises Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in defiance of Beijing.
China has warned Taiwan against making moves toward independence, saying it will take ‘drastic measures’ if the self-governed island crosses red lines.
The United States, which backs Taipei’s secessionist president, also continues to sell weapons to the island in violation of its own stated policy.
China has in the past said its military exercises near Chinese Taipei are a ‘solemn warning’ to secessionist factions in the self-ruled island and their foreign backers, particularly the United States.
Beijing has also warned Taipei against making moves toward independence, saying it will take ‘drastic measures’ if the self-governed island crosses red lines.

  • A senior Chinese official has firmly rejected claims made by the United States that Beijing is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal but said China will continue to ‘modernise’ its nuclear forces.

Fu Cong, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, on Tuesday dismissed as ‘untrue’ a US Defence Department report that said China is expanding its nuclear arsenal with as many as 700 warheads by 2027 and with possibly 1,000 by 2030.
‘On assertions made by US that China is vastly increasing its nuclear capabilities, this is untrue,’ Fu said at a news briefing in the capital, Beijing.
‘China has always adopted the no first use policy and we maintain our nuclear capabilities at the minimal level required for our national security. China will continue to modernise its nuclear arsenal for reliability and safety issues.’
The senior Chinese official also defended his country’s nuclear weapons policy and said the United States and Russia – by far the world’s largest nuclear powers – on disarmament.
‘The US and Russia still possess 90 per cent of the nuclear warheads on Earth,’ Fu said. ‘They must reduce their nuclear arsenal in an irreversible and legally binding manner.’
Fu highlighted Beijing’s keenness to join talks on nuclear arms reduction and nuclear disarmament but reiterated that the step would be taken when both Washington and Moscow reduced their arsenals.
‘We will be happy to join if they have reduced to our level,’ he said, adding that: ‘The two superpowers need to … drastically reduce their nuclear capabilities to a level comparable to the level of China, and for that matter to the level of France and the UK, so that other nuclear states can join in this process.’
The briefing was held a day after the world’s five nuclear states – the United States, Russia, China, the UK, and France – agreed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to avoid a nuclear conflict.
The world’s five nuclear states agree to prevent the spread of atomic weapons in a rare joint statement aimed at highlighting the push for a nuke-free world.
In a rare joint statement aimed at alleviating global concern and highlighting the push for a nuke-free world, the five atomic powers set aside differences and said they saw ‘the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.’
The leaders of the five nuclear weapon states also affirmed their previous commitment to obligations stipulated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a document meant to prohibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons that is joined by a total of 191 countries.
Tensions between Russia and the United States have escalated over the situation around Ukraine and an alleged troop build-up by Moscow close to its western borders. China has also been at odds with the United States in recent years over a range of issues, including trade, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, military activities in the South China Sea, and the origins of the coronavirus.