Event ReportsPublished on May 06, 2013
While there are fears in both the US and China about each other on the nuclear issue, the platforms to resolve the issues and dispel hostile perceptions were limited, says Dr. Lora Saalman, Carnegie's Beijing-based Nuclear Policy Program scholar.
Limited platforms to resolve US-China nuclear issues

Addressing the issues of trust deficiency and nuclear coercion in US-China relationship, Dr Lora Saalman, a Beijing-based associate in the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment, explained the shifting views on nuclear weapons in a talk titled, "China and the United States: From Strategic Trust to Strategic Stability," at the Observer Research Foundation.

Citing post-Cold War nuclear dynamics, a discussion was initiated on the relationship between the status-quo power, US and the rising China. Dr Saalman observed that the differences between China and the US arose due to gaps in mutual interests. China was responding and showing more interest in its dealings with the US than the regional issues surrounding it. The US 2010 Nuclear Policy Review mentioned China 37 times, and paired it with Russia about eighteen times, terming it ’little Russia’. However, Russia and China were not as similar.

Dr Saalman said an asymmetry in US-China relationship was apparent, which had always been absent in the relationship between the US and Russia. The priorities for the US and China were different. The US concentrated on non-proliferation and nuclear terrorism, while for China ’arms control’ was important. Noting, that counter proliferation was finding audience in the US and China, Dr Saalman, claimed that currently all the countries were looking at nuclear modernisation, wherein the US was focusing on qualitative improvement. US did not adhere to the policy of ’no first use.’

Speaking about Chinese domestic debate, it was brought out that the role of nuclear weapons had reduced in the Chinese discourse. Yet, the lines between conventional and strategic weaponry remained blur. While, disarmament was advocated in China, doubts regarding the US superiority in conventional weaponry were raised from time to time. The US advocated strategic stability, but the fear of China gaining parity loomed large in the US psyche. According to Dr Saalman, the platforms to resolve nuclear related issues and dispel hostile perceptions between US and China were limited. In spite of the US wanting to engage with China at the Track I level, the nuclear issue found audience only at the Track II level in China.

To build confidence between the two countries, Dr Saalman called for definitional clarity of significant terms. She believed that if the US and China clearly defined their concepts of strategic stability, Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) and No First Use (NFU), tensions could be significantly eased out. China’s no first use policy and its implications were extensively examined, quoting the recent literature on the topic. Elucidating the force structure of the Chinese military, its conduciveness to no first use and verifiability of such a posture was explained. Issues like the ’transparency disconnect’ and the ensuing intent versus capability debate, were aptly addressed.

Concerns about China’s orientation and eastward outlook were expressed. Following a nuanced approach, Dr Saalman brought out the differences in semantics with regard to the Chinese language. She believed that semantics played an important role in understanding China’s intent. Differences in the guiding ideologies of Chinese leaders were highlighted. Unlike his predecessor, Xi Jinping, the President of China, believed in the ’Chinese dream’, linked with China’s assertiveness in territorial disputes. Presently, China perceived itself as a ’passive’ country and wanted to assume a more assertive role. The discussion also veered towards India. Concerns about China’s refusal to discuss nuclear issues with India were shared. The general feeling that China was using India and Japan as a plank in its relationship with US was expressed. Emphasis was laid on China’s alliance behaviour which still focused on Japan and South Korea. It was observed that China’s rise was ’peaceful’, yet its postures, threatening.

The event was attended by eminent scholars besides the ORF faculty.

(This report is prepared by Rishika Chauhan, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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