To understand what lies behind China’s positions on arms-control issues, a roundtable in Beijing with non-government experts was not a bad start. Joining a delegation organized by the U.N. Association of the United Kingdom, I was fortunate to have that experience on Friday, courtesy of the U.N. Association of China and the Chinese Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA).
Why can’t China exercise leadership on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and ratify it without waiting for the U.S. Congress to go first, I asked our hosts, embarrassing as that would be for me as an American. Because the United States has conducted over 1,000 nuclear-test blasts and China only 45, they replied. By signing the CTBT in 1996, China made a huge sacrifice, we were told, stopping its testing program at an early stage in the learning curve. Needing more tests to ensure reliability of its nuclear arsenal, China has no incentive to ratify before the United States does so.
A Chinese think tanker recalled that 15 years ago, a senior U.S. official testified that the test-ban treaty would lock in other nuclear-weapons states to their lower place on the nuclear learning curve. For the United States, a few more tests would make no significant difference, but for China, even one or two additional tests would benefit its nuclear program.
A former Chinese military officer put the point more directly: stopping China’s testing program was one of the main reasons for the United States to push for a CTBT. He wondered if, having achieved that objective, Washington now felt complacent and wanted to keep its own options open by not ratifying. He suggested that China should consider saying that it was fed up with the U.S. position and would give up on the treaty unless the U.S. ratified. Hinting partial seriousness, he said maybe such a position would spur a U.S. sense of urgency.
Such a threat is not the party line, however. In China these days, one can hear different opinions. Another academic said it is a cultural trait that, having signed the treaty, China will continue to honour it. But there are uncertainties. Beijing will wait on ratification for an appropriate moment when it can be used as an incentive for others to ratify, he said.
why doesn’t China join the other four permanent members of the Security Council in declaring a unilateral end to fissile-material production?Mark Fitzpatrick