BEIJING, March 2—China is increasingly factored into U.S. nuclear strategy and Washington has expressed a desire to enhance strategic stability with Beijing. In a new paper, Lora Saalman examines the challenges and opportunities China sees in pursuing strategic stability with the United States. While Beijing is wary of offering greater transparency over its nuclear weapons without a U.S. commitment to limit its military ambitions in return, China can also build a relationship with the United States based on mutual vulnerability—diminishing the possibility of either side using nuclear coercion or aggression.
- Define strategic stability. Both countries should seek to clearly spell out what bilateral nuclear cooperation will entail and be willing to make concessions in order for nuclear talks to move forward. A vague approach by Washington risks damaging overall bilateral ties as Beijing could misinterpret its intentions.
- Develop concrete confidence-building measures. Deeper engagement—in areas such as missile defense, advanced conventional weapons, extended deterrence, and no-first-use policies—will encourage Beijing to discuss nuclear issues in detail and help both the United States and China understand the other’s motives.
- Encourage greater engagement. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review opens the door for the United States to work more closely with China and allows China to participate actively in strategic stability talks and shape new trends in the bilateral relationship.
- Resume and expand upon cooperative measures. Follow-on measures—such as reciprocal visits and projects between U.S. and Chinese nuclear laboratories—will show Beijing that Washington wants to engage on substantive issues and require China to work with the United States on multiple levels.
“It is clear that Washington needs to match its rhetoric on nuclear disarmament with concrete proposals and measures that will build confidence between the United States and China,” Saalman writes. “And Beijing needs to become an active participant in shaping bilateral strategic relations. Without these steps, it will be nearly impossible for a nuclear relationship that is clearly defined by strategic ambiguity today to shift to one of strategic trust—and ultimately strategic stability.”
Lora Saalman is an associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment based at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Under the auspices of a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship, Saalman’s research focuses on Chinese nuclear weapon and nonproliferation policies and Sino–Indian strategic relations, linking the work of Carnegie’s programs in Beijing and Washington.
The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.
The Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy is a joint U.S.-China research center based at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. The Center brings together senior scholars and experts from the United States and China for collaborative research on common global challenges that face the United States and China.
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