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Why China should be happy
March 08, 2006
President Bush has finished his Indian tour. This was one of the two much-belated Presidential visits to Delhi by any White House head in recent decades.
Almost as if apologising for such a late trip, the White House decided to bring something big – this time by exempting the South Asian giant from a shortlist of targeted countries which remain outside the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Such states are supposed to be denied of international cooperation in civilian nuclear energy – a key component of American nonproliferation strategy.
Certainly India has a sovereign right to go nuclear, whether military or civilian or both, just as the US does.
Half a century ago, in order to seek monopoly over its nuclear weapons status, the American government launched a nuclear nonproliferation campaign in the name of international stability and security.
But clearly this is a regime of discrimination, and hence rather fragile to sustain. However, one did not expect the US itself to contribute towards the faltering of this discriminatory system.
China's acquisition of nuclear weapons is such a story. In the 1950s, the US threatened China repeatedly with nuclear weapons, teaching Beijing that the atomic bomb is not merely a paper tiger.
Consequently, China was forced to develop the quid pro quo to counter America's nuclear coercion. To China's expectation, America has not openly threatened China after the latter blasted its first fission bomb -– instead, it has virtually accepted the legitimacy of China's nuclear weapons status.
Pakistan provides another example. At least from mid-1980s, Islamabad had been engaging hard in enriching uranium-235 gas, allegedly with centrifuge technology from The Netherlands. The US government used the pretext of national security to override the concern over nuclear proliferation.
Washington has proved that nuclear proliferation is not always its prime concern, and occasionally it could tolerate development of such deadly weapons.
Then there is the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The United States, for a long time, stationed nuclear weapons on South Korean territory, forcing North Korea to perceive Washington as an arch-threat that had to be responded in kind with nuclear weapons.
Bill Clinton's written promise of 1994 to North Korea that the US would not invade Pyongyang in the first place was completely ignored by President George Bush when he came to power. The Bush administration didn't care to talk to North Korea for nearly two years.
The US war against Iraq in 2003 without any legitimate reason whatsoever further drives the hermit country down the nuclear path.
Finally comes the case of India. The US invoked sanctions in 1998 against India and Pakistan for testing their nuclear weapons. After forcing a few countries such as China to acquire nuclear weapons and being reluctant to press Israel and Pakistan for a while, this time the US seemed to be serious.
However, again it failed to note that nonproliferation is discriminatory, and that double standards will not work against the will of sovereign states as significant as India and Pakistan, especially as they have never joined the discriminatory treaty.
I believe that even without the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US sanctions would have faded sooner or later.
Realising that such discriminatory policies don't work against significant countries (and are probably not effective against any state), the US lately has taken a different approach, by agreeing to cooperate with India for nuclear power generation.
At the outset, I need to admit that India deserves civilian nuclear power and international cooperation, and that America is also entitled to export civilian technology of its own choosing.
The message of this US-India cooperation is consistent with those of the past – as long as a state is able to resist international discrimination, it can succeed.
China does, Pakistan does; now India does, and DPRK will very likely do as well.
But here we see another type of discrimination.
If the US can lift its discrimination against India, why can't it do so with other nonproliferation targets such as Pakistan? And, since America can cooperate with India in the civilian nuclear sector, why cannot other nuclear export capable states follow suit?
Actually, the UK and Canada are eyeing India, and Pakistan is turning to China currently. With the international nuclear export barrier the US created crumbling, one would question the justification of the continuing existence of such tools as the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Some Chinese might suspect America's intention to contain Beijing through New Delhi, even at the cost of undercutting nuclear nonproliferation. I am not able to challenge this suspicion unless the White House can prove its innocence.
I would not underestimate, however, India's longtime tradition of independent foreign policy, and its wisdom to play the game in its favour rather than otherwise.
What China needs is to strengthen its own strategic partnership with India, ranging from economic and trade cooperation to trust and confidence building through border talks and bilateral and multilateral anti-terrorism efforts.
China can also be happy to see the improvement in India-US relationship. It can be complacent with Bush's three trips to China under his presidency, and commend his first ever visit to the South Asian subcontinent.
Bush's belated show of respect to India helps improve US ties with it and advances America's interest in the region.
As a responsible 'stakeholder' of world affairs, China shall be satisfied to witness the rapprochement between the two great nations. It is in China's interest in seeing its strategic partner in Asia being respected by the world's superpower.
To sum up, while I have tried not to be critical of the US-India nuclear deal, I have pointed out the continuous setbacks to nuclear nonproliferation in which the US has played a major role.
It seems that in international relations, discrimination is consistently ill-fated. Given the pale picture of nonproliferation, we have to address a more fundamental question: improving international relations to reduce the desire for nuclear proliferation.
Professor Dingli Shen, Executive Dean, Institute of International Studies, and Deputy Director, Center for American Studies Fudan University, Shanghai, filed this from The Hague.