Trump Backs U.S. out of the Open Skies Treaty: China’s Reaction

In yet another move to dismantle standing U.S. Foreign Policy measures, President Trump has backed out of a treaty designed to keep us out of nuclear war and scrapped a pair of surveillance aircraft. The withdrawal was confirmed on Nov. 22 and is in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act, as Trump failed to notify congress 120 days before its enactment. The U.S. joined the Open Skies Treaty back in 2002 which authorized short-notice aerial inspections to monitor ally military facilities. 


In their reasoning, several Republican congressmen and the Trump campaign cited mistrust in Russia’s adherence to the treaty in their reasoning. Secretary of State Mike Pomeo tweeted, “America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in noncompliance with its obligations.” However, alarm has not been distinctly bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned about this new “gift” to Putin. They aren’t the only ones.


China expressed its displeasure with Trump’s unauthorized withdrawal on Monday, claiming the move undercut measures of transparency and arms-control, primarily with Russia. Only one arms-control treaty remains as a Cold War residual between the two nations, the New Start Treaty, limiting the number of nuclear warheads in production and in storage. Despite its reliance on the treaty to distill the threat of Russia’s expanding nuclear arsenal, China still refuses to join. Trump’s withdrawal included a condition proposing an extension on the treaty if Beijing agrees to take part. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded, “his move by the U.S. undermines military mutual trust and transparency among relevant countries, is not conducive to maintaining security and stability in relevant regions and will also have a negative impact on the international arms control and disarmament process.”


This recent refusal is part of an ongoing trend where China urges foreign powers to sign arms control agreements while refusing to join themselves. A recent example is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that expired in 2019. 


Instead of directly participating in U.S-Russian demilitarization treaties, China takes advantage of the international limitations in protecting its own unrestricted development of intermediate-range ballistic missiles and nuclear potential. It’s military use unrestrained, China can have the upper-hand in conflicts over the Indian border, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.


With the Open Skies Treaty appealed and the two U.S. aerial surveillance planes destroyed, China can no longer rely on the threat of U.S. interference if Russia violates the agreed terms. The treaty still boasts 33 members from countries including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, but the U.S. was a major deferent. As a farewell gift to Putin and complication for the incoming president, Donald Trump has incited yet another bold upset of U.S.-China relations.