Mr. Sullivan, speaking at a security conference, also said the Wagner Group mercenary force is no longer fighting in Ukraine after an aborted mutiny against the Russian military was crushed last month.
Mr. Sullivan said President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a recent phone call to hold strategic stability talks on nuclear weapons, something he said is vital based on China‘s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal.
The Strategic Command has described Beijing’s program as a nuclear “breakout,” with up to 320 new land-based long-range nuclear missiles being built in three fields in western China. China‘s military also tested a unique hypersonic missile in 2021 that orbited in space before reentering the atmosphere to strike a ground target.
“If you look right now at what China is doing with respect to the buildup of its nuclear capabilities, as well as a series of quite exotic forms of weaponry that have themselves nuclear capabilities, the need for basic risk reduction, for an understanding of one another’s doctrines, intentions, modes of operation is acute,” Mr. Sullivan told the annual Aspen Security Forum in the Colorado ski resort town.
The Trump administration sought to include China in its nuclear arms limitation talks with Russia. But Beijing refused, saying its force was far smaller than those of Washington and Moscow, and continued to turn down requests to discuss its nuclear forces.
Chinese officials say any discussion of its nuclear forces would undermine their deterrent value.
China is also refusing calls to resume military-to-military communications with the Pentagon. communications that the Biden administration wants to avoid “mistake, miscalculation, escalation,” Mr. Sullivan confirmed.
“We’re prepared to step up to our responsibility. We believe the PRC should do the same,” he told the forum. “The fact that they haven’t, I think it’s something that they need to answer for.”
Mr. Sullivan dismissed Chinese claims that U.S. sanctions on Chinas’s defense minister, Gen. Li Shangfu, should be lifted as a way to jump-start direct talks.
Mr. Sullivan said the administration is planning other steps to prevent advanced U.S. computer chips from going to China, over concerns they could be used to strengthen the People’s Liberation Army. Less advanced chips will not be embargoed, he added.
Beijing fears setting what the Biden administration calls “guardrails” in the bilateral relationship, arguing it is akin to the idea that fastening seat belts in a car will facilitate a future crash and allow the United States to act in riskier ways, he said.
“And what we have tried to explain is actually the seat belt is a great analogy because wearing seat belts has dramatically lowered the costs and consequences of car accidents and is an inherently good thing in international relations as it is on the highway down the street,” he said.
The national security adviser defended the administration’s new diplomatic offensive toward China, including his lengthy closed-door meetings with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna.
So far, the two sides have had limited success in bridging differences despite recent visits to Beijing by three Cabinet-level officials.
The talks in May opened the door to recent visits to China by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and John Kerry, the presidential climate envoy.
The new diplomatic approach to Beijing is aimed at pairing competition with direct talks to prevent relations from veering into conflict, he said.
“I actually think being clear, straightforward, and setting the emotions, the rhetoric and some of these larger, philosophical framings aside and just getting down to the core practicalities, there is, I think, a genuine possibility for a stable relationship,” he said, “even though that relationship is inherently competitive and will involve us doing things that Beijing doesn’t like and will involve Beijing doing things that we don’t like.”
Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. government has no information on the recent disappearance of Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Speculation has arisen that Mr. Gang may have made some political mistake and ran afoul of Mr. Xi, who has been known to purge Chinese officials for minor offenses.
On Russia, Mr. Sullivan said the United States is not seeking the ouster of Vladimir Putin and that the solution to Moscow’s leadership is for “elements of Russian society and Russian politics to work out.”
“It’s not for us to sit around and plot how to change the regime in Moscow. We’ve made clear that that’s not where our efforts lie,” he said.
Yevgeni Prigozhin, the Wagner Group mercenary chief, attempted to oust two senior Russian defense and military leaders in a failed mutiny last month.
After driving toward Moscow, Wagner forces withdrew and some went to neighboring Belarus.
Mr. Sullivan said the operation was destabilizing for Mr. Putin and put the longtime Kremlin leader on the defensive.
“I don’t think anybody knows whither Prigozhin, whither Wagner, whither the Russian Ministry of Defense, whither any particular general, any particular commander,” Mr. Sullivan said in his talk. “This is all so unsettled and uncertain and the full implications of what happened with Prigozhin’s mutiny have yet to play out. We will see it play out over days, weeks, months.”
Mr. Putin and his top security advisers are attempting to determine if other forces were involved in the failed uprising.
Ukraine’s military counteroffensive against the Russians is facing resistance. But Kyiv’s forces also have a large amount of combat power that still has not been committed to the offensive, Mr. Sullivan said.