China’s Role in Nuclear Nonproliferation

China is perhaps the greatest variable in resolving the North Korean crisis. To understand the trends in Chinese arms control and nonproliferation policies, a historical review is absolutely necessary. Examinations of state behavior show that three most significant events perceptively show Chinese belief on arms control. Two of these events are heavily related to nuclear nonproliferation, so I intend to examine these events: the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and exports to Iran.

China signing the CTBT is important because it was the first time China agreed to cap their weapons capabilities. Mainly, there were pressures from Japan and countries near the China’s western border. However, closer examinations of the facts show that China’s ulterior cost-benefit calculations were the deciding factor. In the case of Japan, China only agreed to sign the CTBT after Japan threatened to abandon its economic ties. In this case, China only accepted the CTBT because the projected economic loss heavily outweighed the potential benefits of continuing the nuclear tests. China was not convinced or suddenly enlightened that testing nuclear weapons was unjustified and against international peace. Rather, it was forced to give up nuclear testing because holding onto it would have resulted in greater economic losses for the nation.

Second, the authors discuss exports to Iran. China exports a lot of various weapons and technology (e.g. ballistic missile, cruise missiles, and nuclear technology) to Iran, but for the sake of our research, we will focus on the authors’ comments on nuclear energy and nonproliferation. China hasn’t involved itself in the actual delivery or export of nuclear weapons. However, China’s future compliance is still a remaining question. China declared that the development of the Qinshan reactor was suspended, not fully halted, which hints at China’s possible continuation of nuclear exports to Iran. Evidently, the US’ unilateral pressures have not been able to produce a binding effect on China. China’s lack of willingness to comply with the US may also be interpreted in a symbolic way. China is establishing its position as the center of a possible hegemony that will challenge American hegemony.

In the ultimate end, China is still a great variable in the North Korean nuclear crisis. Policymakers must be conscious of China’s fluctuating stance on nuclear nonproliferation. Recently, China has decided to put more economic pressure on North Korea by freezing assets. It is known that most of North Korea’s flow of money with international entities happens through the Bank of China. China just froze known North Korean assets within the Bank of China. While China’s behavior needs to be questioned and scrutinized, China may be willing to support regional and international peace.

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