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China’s Nuclear Security Concept: A Balanced and Better Approach

Mar 27 , 2014
  • Fan Jishe

    Senior Fellow, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Two decades ago, when people first mentioned nuclear issues, more specifically, a nuclear war breaking out intentionally or accidentally between or among nuclear powers was the major scenario possible in the Cold War era. Since the end of Cold War, especially after the terrorist attack in September 11, 2001, when people mention nuclear issues, nuclear terrorism becomes the key word. While the threat of nuclear war is decreasing dramatically, the threat of nuclear terrorism is increasing in real terms. It is not only because that terrorist groups have the motivation to create disastrous consequences with nuclear components, but also that there exists enormous stockpiles of nuclear materials around the globe and some of those sites are poorly secured. 

Fan Jishe

According to the report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, as of January 2013, the global stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is estimated to be about 1,390 tonnes, and the global stockpile of separated plutonium is about 490 tonnes. These are just nuclear materials, not to mention the much bigger inventory of radioactive sources widely used in many countries. If the terrorists or terrorist groups obtain radioactive or even nuclear materials, no one could exclude the possibility that they could fabricate a rudimental nuclear bomb or a dirty bomb and detonate it in a populous city. That is exactly a nightmare all countries concerned want to avoid, and that is why more than 50 top leaders gathered for the third time in The Hague earlier this week to discuss how to strengthen nuclear security, and how to make every effort possible to secure the loose nuclear materials. 

Strengthening nuclear security is very important for all countries, and there is no significant difference among all countries. However, how to achieve that goal remains a key question to be answered. Because of climate change and energy security concerns, many developing countries have revived their interest in the civilian use of nuclear energy. How do the respective countries make sure that nuclear energy contributes to their people’s well-being without threatening their security? Most countries, including some countries of proliferation concern, are entitled to the civilian use of nuclear energy, but are they obligated to observe international guidelines, abide by international conventions, and UN Security Council resolutions immediately relevant to nuclear security? Essentially speaking, every state has the responsibility to provide for the security of nuclear material and other radioactive material, as well as their associated facilities and activities. Then, does national responsibility in nuclear security make international cooperation over such issue irrelevant? Minimizing the use and reducing the stockpile of nuclear materials; further improving the security of nuclear materials; and strengthening international nuclear security architecture are measures that certainly help to build a safer world, but are these measures sufficient enough to prevent the dangerous nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands? 

To answer these key questions, President Xi Jinping elaborated on China’s nuclear security concepts in his speech at The Hague Nuclear Security Summit. China argues for a balanced approach in strengthening nuclear security, and for the four “equal emphasis” in President Xi’s speech that address the above-mentioned questions. Equal emphasis of development and security is to develop nuclear energy on a sustainable basis; equal emphasis of rights and obligations is to guarantee every country’s rights in civilian use of nuclear energy without sacrificing international security; equal emphasis of independent and collaborative efforts is only because nuclear security is both a state responsibility and a global endeavor; equal emphasis of treating symptoms and addressing causes is to tackle the nuclear security issue in a comprehensive way so that a long lasting security and development could be reassured. 

China’s nuclear security concept could serve as universally accepted principles in addressing nuclear security issues. This concept takes into consideration all countries’ concerns, their rights and obligations. Based on these principles, all countries concerned will be willing to fulfill their own responsibility domestically, and make contributions internationally. It was only a couple of years ago when nuclear security was a key concern for only a few major powers. With the launch of Nuclear Security Summit four years ago, an international consensus on nuclear security has been achieved, and efforts and progress have been made in this regard. Strengthening nuclear security is not a one-way street, but a process of “give and take.” On the one hand, no country will be better off in a terrorist attack involving nuclear materials, and all countries are obligated to contribute to the common security and prosperity. On the other hand, no country is in a position to dictate to other countries regarding nuclear security issues without providing urgently needed financial and technical help for other countries. Nuclear security is a shared responsibility, and a common cause requiring collaborative efforts from countries rich and poor, capable and less capable, experienced and inexperienced. 

China talked the talk, and walked the walk. The National Progress Report submitted by China, though the attention paid in this report are far from enough, fully illustrated China’s efforts in nuclear security. Domestically, China is building a robust legal system on nuclear security, including drafting National Nuclear Security Regulations and mapping out a comprehensive plan for future nuclear security efforts. China is also minimizing the use of HEU by decommissioning HEU research reactors and converting HEU reactors. China is also enhancing the national security level in radioactive sources, vigorously combating illicit trafficking of nuclear materials by training personnel and installing more detection equipments at gateway ports. Other than efforts afore mentioned, China has made major contributions internationally as well. The Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security in construction, once completed in 2015, will serve as the hub in the Asia-Pacific region for personnel training and technical exchanges. China supports all those international legal architecture on nuclear security as well, and supports the work of the IAEA–the future major player in nuclear security. 

Over the past several decades, China maintained a fairly good record in nuclear security without the loss of even one item or one gram of nuclear material, as indicated by Mr. Sun Qin, the chairman of China National Nuclear Corporation. Without any doubt, China is not only a model for other countries, but also will be a major player in nuclear security in the future. 

Dr. Fan Jishe is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and also Deputy Director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Studies.

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