China brings shift on nukes to Korea talks
As China Wednesday hosts the first talks in six months on North Korea's nuclear bid, Beijing's new, younger leaders are backing a significant policy change on the development of weapons of mass destruction.Skip to next paragraph
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The new doctrine, which has come into sharp relief between these two rounds of talks, creates implicit pressure on North Korea to reverse its nuclear program. It also brings China closer to a traditional Western "arms control" position and closer to those in the Bush administration who want to prohibit "rogue" states from acquiring nuclear weapons.
For decades in the UN and in international forums China held that states had the right to develop whatever self-defense methods they chose. The principle originated in a socialist theory of equality among states, and meshed with China's efforts dating to the 1950s to export revolution to developing countries, particularly strategic allies. The footprints of that policy were embarrassingly on display this month - amid evidence that China assisted Pakistan's nuclear program, and after Chinese language instructions for atomic weapons parts and designs were found in Libya. US officials still complain that Chinese export controls of weapons technology are ill-enforced.
Yet as Beijing tackles the problem of plutonium and suspected enriched uranium programs across the Yalu River in North Korea, and as it contemplates a circle of neighbors with nuclear capability, it is shifting its policy. In semiofficial publications, in a little noticed white paper on nonproliferation late last year, and in interviews with senior Beijing sources conducted for this report, sources say the old policy of indifference, or tacit official acquiescence of sensitive technology sales by Chinese firms to states desiring a nuclear card, are ending.
"China is moving toward a direction of nonproliferation," argues Jin Lin Bo, Asia director of the China Institute of International Studies, an influential government think tank. "Our national goals are different from 30 years ago, when we did not allow any links to Western civilization. In the past, we treated proliferation as someone else's business, having nothing to do with China. Or we saw it through an anti-US lens. Now we see it as part of our security, and a desire to be a wealthy state acceptable to others."
Factors involved in the new thinking in China, experts say, include China's desire to present a mainstream international image that will enhance its attractiveness as a haven for investment.
An unusually full treatment in a magazine called Oriental Outlook - published by Xinhua, China's official news service - describes how the Chinese people have been ignoring the fact that China is now "surrounded by nuclear states," including Russia, India, and Pakistan. Taiwan has long held blueprints for nuclear weapons, and should North Korea collapse and unify, there would be a substantially stronger regional rival right on China's border. Japanese military leaders have in recent years broken an old taboo on discussing the possibility of nuclear accession.