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China's Nuclear Dilemma

Author: Esther Pan
January 25, 2006


Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is in Beijing this week, meeting Chinese leaders who have been increasingly assertive in nonproliferation efforts around the world. Most visibly, China has taken a leading role in the six-party talks aimed at stopping North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan told reporters January 19 that China seeks a peaceful solution to the Korean nuclear question through dialogue, while a Foreign Affairs article from 2003, "China's New Diplomacy," examines China's role in containing North Korea earlier in the standoff over its nuclear program. Council expert Adam Segal tells's Bernard Gwertzman the Chinese are eager to work out an arrangement that will end North Korea's nuclear program, but are so afraid of forcing a collapse in North Korean society they are reluctant to bring real pressure to bear on Pyongyang.

China is also cooperating with U.S. efforts to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for continuing work on its nuclear program. However, China also has an important energy relationship with Tehran that constrains its actions. Beryl Anand of the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies says China's energy investments in Iran make it unlikely to vote for sanctions against Tehran. And Iran isn't the only Middle Eastern nation China is cultivating: Richard Russell details China's oil-for-weapons relationship with Saudi Arabia in the Wall Street Journal.

The search for energy sources is a driving force behind China's foreign policy. Writing in Foreign Affairs, David Zweig and Bi Jianhai explore how China's global hunt for energy is affecting its foreign policy decisions. China's search for energy in Africa is explained in this analysis and explored further in this CFR Background Q&A by Esther Pan. Senator Joe Liberman (D-CT) speaks at a Council meeting on how China's energy policies are affecting relations with the United States. CFR's Mark Christopher writes in the Houston Chronicle that China's ravenous appetite for energy is causing it to prop up corrupt regimes around the world.

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