In China, everything from its “peaceful rise” to “harmonious development” has been predicated on economic incentives to maintain a stable environment. While China’s rapid economic growth would enable it to greatly expand its nuclear arsenal, this priority has conversely compelled it to emphasize economic growth and stability over arms racing. As part of this logic, interdependence is a driver of stability. While the concept is not new, its linkage to strategic stability is.
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.