Interdependence fits China’s construct for relations with the rest of the world, based on intertwined interests and economic incentives. Yet, there exists a parallel discourse on comprehensive national power (CNP) in China. The latter predates the former and posits that China’s lack of comparative political, economic, and military power constrains its participation in strategic stability talks or nuclear reduction negotiations. When these two discourses intersect, however, Chinese claims of inadequate CNP are increasingly difficult to justify.
This trend has far-reaching implications for Sino-U.S. strategic relations. While interdependence might bring China to the negotiation table, its presence does not guarantee meaningful engagement, much less nuclear reductions. So while much ink has been spilled on whether or not China will sprint to parity, not enough has been devoted to whether it has adequate incentives to walk towards zero. This essay shows that Chinese experts are likely to find the opportunity costs of disarmament to be greater than the benefits.