The United States, Russia, China and two other countries with nuclear weapons on Monday issued a joint statement affirming that nuclear war must be avoided and that the role of such armaments should be limited to defensive purposes and to deter aggression.

China hailed the statement, which also vows to continue to seek diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations and prevent an arms race, as the first of its kind released by the leaders of the five so-called nuclear-weapon states.

While the United Nations and Japanese antinuclear advocates welcomed the move, it remains unclear whether any specific progress will be seen in disarmament amid tensions between the United States and Russia and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing.

Photo shows one of the U.S. thermonuclear tests that began in March 1954 at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. (Getty/Kyodo)

"We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the five countries, including Britain and France, said in the statement.

"As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons -- for as long as they continue to exist -- should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war," they added.

The latest move came as U.S. President Joe Biden is committing to take steps toward reducing the role of nuclear weapons, in a shift from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was criticized for undermining past efforts to curb the dangers of such arsenals.

The five nations are officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under the NPT, nuclear powers pledge to work toward disarmament in exchange for promises from non-nuclear states not to acquire the devastating weapons.

But frustration has been growing among the nuclear have-nots over the lack of progress on ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The joint statement was formulated with the intention of coinciding with a U.N. conference to review the implementation of the NPT slated to begin Tuesday in New York, Russia's Tass news agency said, citing remarks by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

The meeting was postponed at the last minute due to a surge in coronavirus cases in the United States, but the five countries decided to release the statement "given the importance" of the content, she said, stressing Moscow's initiative in drafting the document.

The third and final session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference begins in New York, on April 29, 2019. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Expressing their "desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament," the five nations said the ultimate goal is "a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all."

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a statement issued through a spokesman, expressed his appreciation for the recognition by the nuclear-weapon states of their need to comply with their bilateral and multilateral disarmament and arms control agreements and commitments.

He also said he is "encouraged" by the nuclear powers' commitment to pursue measures to prevent nuclear war, and that he "looks forward to further details about future initiatives."

In Japan, the world's sole country to have suffered atomic bombings, a leader of a civic group involved in sending high school students to the United Nations to deliver peace messages also welcomed the statement.

"I feel the long-held wishes of the people in the world, especially the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the citizens there, have become a reality," Nobuto Hirano, a 75-year-old co-representative of the group said, referring to the two Japanese cities that suffered 1945 nuclear attacks in World War II.

Miho Tanaka, a 27-year-old representative of a civic group calling on Japanese parliamentary members to act to abolish nuclear weapons, said the statement is "happy news" following the postponement of the NPT review conference, which has already been repeatedly delayed from its original date in the spring of 2020.

She expressed hope that Japan will play its role as a country aware of the realities of the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

Japan has stated it aspires to a world free of nuclear weapons, but it has often acted in consideration of its security alliance with the United States, which provides protection to the Asian country through its nuclear arsenal.

The global security environment also remains tough, with tensions rising between the United States and Russia over speculation that Moscow may take military action on the border with Ukraine.

The United States has also been concerned over China's hypersonic weapons development as well as the potential for the rapid buildup of its nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Joe Biden (L, Getty/Kyodo) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Kyodo). 

Following the release of the joint statement, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said his country has "always maintained a nuclear strategy that is defensive in nature" and "pursued a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Noting that the five nations are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as legally recognized nuclear-weapon states under the NPT, Ma also said they "bear a common responsibility to prevent nuclear war and safeguard world peace."

But China has so far rejected U.S. calls to join nuclear disarmament negotiations.

A U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons entered into force in January last year, but none of the five nuclear-weapon states have joined it. Japan has also refrained from signing the pact.

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