December 29th, 2008 | China Daily China plays bigger role in proliferation control
China’s modernization drive has made great progress in the past 30 years of reform and opening up. This is evident particularly in the economic buildup, as its foreign trade has grown to make it one of the world’s largest in terms of both imports and exports. Meanwhile, its diplomatic and defense initiatives have been advancing as well, helping the nation to enhance its security and its image on the international stage.
There is an important area where foreign trade meets security. It is called proliferation control, which aims to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their delivery systems such as missiles.
The international community attaches great importance to the prevention of the proliferation of WMD and related dual-use technology and materials. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution after the Cold War confirming the proliferation of WMD threatens world peace and stability. It was on the strength of this resolution that the UN denied Iraq the right to develop nuclear arms. Preventing WMD proliferation is also a core component of security cooperation among major powers of the world today.
Containing the proliferation of WMD is a formidable challenge. Currently, biological and chemical weapons have been banned, but not nuclear arms. And it is even more difficult to restrict the delivery systems of WMD. However, none of all that is more challenging than containing the proliferation of dual-use technology and materials related to WMD.
Because many of the technologies and materials related to WMD can be used for military and civilian purposes, it has become the hardest thing to promote the civilian use of such technologies and materials while prohibiting their use for military purposes.
In the past 30 years and particularly since the 1990s, China has made significant achievements in proliferation control. It has built a cross-department control and coordination mechanism to prevent proliferation through exports, clarified the specific responsibility of each government office involved – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and the General Administration of Customs – in their own areas of authority as well as in coordinated actions.
China has also set up the export control system where the Ministry of Commerce is the sole authority to handle applications for exports and give clearance. Thus, it has formed a complete export control system with a working mechanism to prevent proliferation.
In the last 15 years, the government has implemented a strict law and regulations on export control of nuclear, biological, chemical and missile technology and related materials and published a list of all dual-use items under proliferation control. The control level in some areas is more stringent than in any other country in the world.
China believes maintaining strict export control serves the purpose of delivering its promise to the international community. It contributes to regional and global security, provides a complete security foundation for the development of its foreign trade, improves in effect the cooperation between major powers and among all nations for that matter, and enhances its international image as a responsible country.
The prevention of proliferation was a focal issue in the China-US relations in the 1990s, when the bilateral ties faced important adjustments with the issues of human rights, Taiwan, bilateral trade and proliferation control, posing greater difficulties and requiring the two countries to view them from a broad and forward-looking perspective and address the most significant of them first.
The two countries’ top leaders maintained a hands-on approach to proliferation control. They made it clear that maintaining regional security concerns the interest of both sides, and held in respect each other’s core security concern (more than before) with an eye on serving the overall economic and security interests of both sides. They also established institutionalized dialogues and cooperated within the existing multilateral framework for proliferation control.
In the past 30 years, China joined and ratified the non-proliferation treaties for nuclear and chemical weapons, became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and signed the treaty on the complete ban on nuclear weapons tests. It also joined the “group of nuclear supplier nations”, pledging full security guarantee for civilian nuclear energy cooperation with foreign nations.
It has also cooperated with the international community in strengthening the articles concerning inspections in the biological weapons non-proliferation treaty, while increasing dialogue on and cooperation in the “missile technology control system” with foreign countries.
The China-US cooperation in proliferation control has made more positive progress since the beginning of the new millennium. China has been playing a leading role in the Six-Party Talks on the Korean Peninsula Nuclear Issue, a significant contribution to the stability of the Northeast Asian situation, thus gaining more weight in handling major international issues.
In its second term in office, the Bush administration gradually increased dialogues with China on proliferation control. The bilateral cooperation also includes education and training on multiple levels, including government departments, export enterprises and providers of university teaching materials. This has helped create a more respectful and harmonious working environment as well as a more proactive partnership in cooperation.
The author is director of the Center of American Studies at the Shanghai-based Fudan University
By Shen Dingli