Chinese Perceptions on Nuclear Weapons, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy soldiers on their armored vehicles carrying ship-to-air missiles roll to Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

June 21, 2018

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy soldiers on their armored vehicles carrying ship-to-air missiles roll to Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. Damir Sagolj/Reuters
Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

On June 21, 2018, Patricia Kim testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. She discussed China’s nuclear doctrine, which has traditionally focused on maintaining a minimum deterrent and “no first use” policy, as well as China’s current nuclear modernization efforts, which involve increasing its nuclear arsenal at a modest rate and strengthening the survivability and retaliatory capabilities of its nuclear forces. Kim also discussed why the prospects for arms control negotiations with China remain dim given Beijing’s reluctance to embrace transparency based on its insecurities about its relatively minimal nuclear arsenal, as well as its insistence that Washington and Moscow first commit to significant arms reductions before asking China to restrict its own weapons. Finally, Kim discussed China’s record on nonproliferation, pointing out that while Beijing no longer seems to directly assist the nuclear programs of other states as it did in the past, it has not fully lived up to its commitments to nonproliferation, with lax enforcement of export controls and proliferation-related sanctions.

Based on these observations of China’s nuclear doctrine and modernization efforts and its stance on arms control and nonproliferation, Kim suggested the following policy recommendations for the United States:

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  • Engage in bilateral confidence building and avoid spurring an action-reaction dynamic. China’s nuclear force  modernization will largely be influenced by the United States’ own efforts to modernize its nuclear forces. As such, the United States should seek to engage in high-level dialogues with China to clarify each other’s nuclear policies, doctrine and capabilities, and to engage in confidence building measures to reduce the prospects of an action-reaction arms race that will not only be destabilizing for the world, but also highly costly for U.S. citizens.
  • Strengthen alliances and the credibility of the United States’ security commitments. China will continue to modernize its nuclear forces into the foreseeable future in order to maintain minimum deterrent capabilities in the nuclear realm and as part of its larger campaign to strengthen its military capabilities. In the midst of China’s military expansion, it is vital the United States reassures its allies, especially in East Asia, of the credibility of its security commitments by clarifying and reinforcing its security assurances, conducting joint exercises to strengthen joint capabilities and interoperability, and resolving disputes with allies in a discreet and cooperative manner. 
  • Leverage China’s desire for stability and its growing international profile and interests to encourage its active participation in nonproliferation efforts. Chinese President Xi Jinping has set several ambitious goals to develop China into a world class power by 2049. None of these goals can be achieved if China is beset with chaos and instability due to war, for instance, stemming from a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, as more and more Chinese assets and citizens move abroad, they will also become increasingly vulnerable to nuclear terrorism and other proliferation-related instability. U.S. leaders should leverage China’s need for stability and its desire to protect its growing interests to encourage Beijing to do more to curb nuclear proliferation.
  • Set a leading tone on arms control. The United States’ most recent Nuclear Posture Review announced that it would introduce two new types of nuclear weapons in light of the growing threat from China and Russia, among other actors. As a responsible great power, the United States should lead the charge against introducing new nuclear weapons, work to raise the threshold for nuclear conflict, and continue to rally its counterparts to work toward reducing and ultimately ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The full written testimony can be accessed here.

More on:

China

Nuclear Weapons

United States

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

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