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Senior ex-diplomat suggests fine-tuning China's nuclear weapons policy
Directly from China’s Chief negotiator of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
Ambassador 沙祖康 Sha Zukang, the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and China’s chief negotiator of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, made a speech at the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of China’s Arms Control Association and the Symposium on China’s Arms Control Work on September 15, 2021, in Beijing.
The speech includes a few pivotal suggestions to China’s standing arms control and nuclear weapons policy and has been circulating on Chinese social media. Your Pekingnologist has since approached Ambassador Sha, who kindly provided an English translation of his speech together with the Chinese original for publication in the Pekingnology newsletter.
Sha served as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, from 2007 to 2012. Before that, from 2001 to 2007 he served as Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Other International Organizations in Switzerland. He established the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he headed from 1997 to 2001. In his position as Chinese Ambassador of Disarmament Affairs from 1995 to 1997, Sha was China’s chief negotiator of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and played an important role in bridging between nuclear and non-nuclear-weapons States party in the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which decided that NPT shall continue in force indefinitely. Sha was one of the designers of China’s major arms control and disarmament initiatives.
Highlights from Ambassador Sha’s speech:
The global strategic security landscape is undergoing a profound transformation, the competition among major powers is intensifying, with the U.S. and other Western countries pushing desperately to suppress and discredit China with unprecedented ferocity, poisoning the international environment, resulting in the near paralysis of the formerly well-run international arms control system.
I am of the view that we could declare that China will surely participate in nuclear disarmament, certainly get involved in nuclear transparency effort, and eventually accept nuclear verification…China's participation in nuclear disarmament is only a matter of time, depending on the progress of the United States in reducing its colossal nuclear arsenals including its means of delivery.
In view of this worsening situation, should we in turn review our policy of non-first use of nuclear weapons, and make necessary "minor adjustments"? For example, our policy of unconditional non-first use of nuclear weapons against nuclear states and no use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-free zones could remain unchanged. However, "unconditional non-first use" does not apply to the United States, unless China and the United States reach a mutual agreement on non-first use of nuclear weapons against each other through negotiations; or the United States does not take any more aggressive measures to undermine China's fundamental interest of strategic security.
The U.S. has granted itself so many exemptions within the Missile Technology Control Regime by adopting double standards and seriously threatened China’s strategic security interests. Should we continue to accept U.S. domination in this area, or should we reconsider the benefits of remaining in the MTCR and continuing to comply with its rules? Should we set our own missile export standards in accordance with our own security interests?
(On DPRK) We could also announce that if the United States does not fully and accurately implement the Security Council resolutions, China will take necessary steps in… and other relevant measures in response. I am afraid that is the only language the United States understands.
Speech by Ambassador Sha Zukang at the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of China’s Arms Control Association and the Symposium on China’s Arms Control Work
(15 September 2021)
President Zhang Yan and all colleagues.
In the blink of an eye, the Arms Control Association has gone through a glorious course of two decades. As a veteran who had actively promoted the establishment of the Arms Control Association, I am extremely proud and excited. The recall in memory of the beacons and smoke on the battlefields of arms control negotiations often makes it difficult for me to calm down for a long time. The colleagues whom I had worked with closely in those days when they were in the prime of life, are now covered with silver hair and wrinkles, this is saddening! But when I remembered the time when we worked side by side, braved various difficulties, overcame insurmountable obstacles, and pushed forward the negotiation process toward the direction we expected with satisfactory outcomes for all leaving our counterparts bewildered by our perseverance and achievements, I felt immensely gratified and contented. Whenever I met our PLA colleagues, I used to say that as the army and the people are united as one, we shall be invincible!
Today, our arms control team has become an important builder and contributor to global security governance and the international arms control system. Just now, State Councilor Wang Yi and Deputy Director Huang Xueping of the Military Cooperation Office comprehensively elaborated on the glorious past and important contributions of China's arms control diplomacy in their speeches, therefore, I will not dwell on them anymore.
Looking back on China and its recent history, China's arms control diplomacy has grown from scratch and weak to full-fledged and strong, embodying the arduous work and sweat of successive generations of arms control people in our country. Through their devoted efforts, an arms control policy has been formed with rich connotations and a practical path laid both reflecting Chinese characteristics. They have effectively safeguarded our national sovereignty, security, and development interests, not only creating the necessary external conditions for our national defense modernization but also establishing a responsible international image of China and its army in contribution to maintaining world peace and security.
At present, the world is experiencing a dramatic change unprecedented in history, and the construction of socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new phase. The global strategic security landscape is undergoing a profound transformation, the competition among major powers is intensifying, with the U.S. and other Western countries pushing desperately to suppress and discredit China with unprecedented ferocity, poisoning the international environment, resulting in the near paralysis of the formerly well-run international arms control system. In this context, I believe that in order to maintain peace, security, and development of our country and the world, our efforts in arms control and military diplomacy urgently need to be strengthened. In the following, I would like to share my views.
First, good arms control work must keep in mind the original aspirations and the mission. Undiminished security is the overarching principle of arms control efforts, and it is also a principle unanimously recognized by the international community. Accordingly, China's arms control diplomacy must firmly safeguard China's legitimate interests of strategic security and arms development vis a vis other countries helping the modernization of our national defense. Accordingly, we must actively manage our relations with militarily important countries, create a global strategic security environment favorable to our country, and make dynamic efforts with all parties to build a community with a shared future for humanity.
Arms control is by no means the same as disarmament, and neither more nor fewer troops and arms are better. Whether to reduce or expand the military forces should be determined by the need to maintain peace and security of the country, the region, and the world. Maintaining military forces within the appropriate, necessary, and sufficient range is called "arms control". Beyond this watershed, there should be "disarmament." Maintaining and enhancing security is the original intent of arms control and disarmament, namely, undiminished security.
The well-known INF Treaty, for example, was the product of bilateral negotiations between the United States and the former Soviet Union, however, China actually played a crucial role in the negotiations. At the time, the United States and the former Soviet Union agreed to destroy only the intermediate-range missiles deployed in Europe by both of them and not those stationed elsewhere with ranges covering all Asian countries. For this reason, they were most concerned about China's participation in the negotiations in fear of China's opposition to their deal. For this reason, they spared no effort in conducting a persuasion mission to China, including talks to Deng Xiaoping, in the hope that we would accept the agreement they negotiated and concluded in their interest. After careful considerations and repeated discussions, the Party Central Committee decided to issue a statement emphasizing that Eurasian security was equally important and that intermediate-range missiles deployed in Europe and Asia ought to be destroyed completely, simultaneously, synchronously, and locally.
Under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping, we mobilized all Asian countries, including those that had not yet established or reestablished diplomatic relations with our country to voice their concerns loudly in unison on various occasions and finally succeeded in achieving the goal of having all the intermediate-range missiles deployed by the two countries in both Europe and Asia destroyed, which strongly safeguarded the security of our country and all Asian countries.
This is a typical case of the so-called "arms control" diplomacy in support of and serving national security interests. In addition, in the negotiations on the ban of chemical weapons, China alone withstood the pressure from the outside and insisted that the countries which abandoned chemical weapons in foreign territories must take full responsibility for the destruction of those decaying weapons. We eventually won the diplomatic victory forcing Japan, the invader during WWII, to assume legal responsibility for the destruction of those decaying chemical weapons abandoned in China. In the negotiations on the ban of anti-personnel landmines, we and like-minded countries worked together leading to a protocol successfully concluded, which addressed both the security concerns and humanitarian concerns of the international community.
Second, good arms control work must be made by united and coordinated efforts by all domestic stakeholders concerned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the main department responsible for implementing the country's foreign policy in the interest of the Chinese people; the People's Liberation Army is the armed force responsible for maintaining national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Arms control diplomacy is an important part of China's overall diplomacy. Arms control work involves diplomacy, national defense, science and technology, legislation, public information outreach, and other fields. It is complex and sensitive, highly specialized and technical. Diplomats engaged in arms control diplomacy are recognized by the international community as the elite of each country. People engaged in China's arms control and arms control diplomacy must love our beloved country and our heroic army, should aspire to be "open-minded, down-to-earth, pioneering, and dedicated" in conducting the mission.
From our historical experience, every important arms control negotiation we have participated in cannot be won without the wise decision of the Party Central Committee and the sincere cooperation among various domestic stakeholders.
For example, in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), colleagues from all relevant ministries and research institutes worked together, day and night, in coordination like different moving parts of a machine. They conducted in-depth research on a series of technical and legal issues involved in the treaty in a tireless effort to develop our negotiation plan on the basis of thorough argumentation.
During the negotiation process, we were able to maintain our national image and safeguard our national interests by keeping a balance between the internal and external exigencies. The negotiations gained the necessary time for our nuclear testing program to be completed, and the near-perfect CTBT contributed to world peace and security.
The then British Ambassador for Disarmament, Sir Michael, explicitly stated that China was the biggest winner of the CTBT negotiations, and he even proposed that the Chinese and U.S. delegations should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
With China's efforts, the treaty has properly addressed the thorny issues of the scope of the ban, the mechanism for initiating "on-site inspections" and the entry into force of the treaty and was highly praised by all countries except India.
I believe that members of the arms control team must "dare to fight and win", strengthen communication skills, form a united force, and face up external challenges.
Third, to do an excellent job of arms control work requires someone to size up the situation sagaciously and dare to be a pioneer and an innovator. The current international strategic security environment is undergoing a major transformation, and multilateral arms control diplomacy is becoming more complex and challenging. I believe that on the basis of our traditional arms control policy, we should keep pace with the times, take bold steps to free our minds, take the initiative to seek changes, and nurture more innovative ideas.
For example, the U.S. is trying to force China to participate in nuclear disarmament with no mention of Britain and France, its two nuclear allies. Many non-nuclear countries lured and pressured by the U.S. are humming a marching tune.
Based on our consistent and principled position that we have always advocated the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and the "two super-power firsts", I am of the view that we could declare that China will surely participate in nuclear disarmament, certainly get involved in nuclear transparency effort, and eventually accept nuclear verification. The very reason that China developed nuclear weapons is to counter the nuclear blackmail of the nuclear bullies and break their nuclear monopoly. China declared from the very first day it possessed nuclear weapons that it is in favor of a complete prohibition and thorough destruction of all nuclear weapons in the world. China's participation in nuclear disarmament is only a matter of time, depending on the progress of the United States in reducing its colossal nuclear arsenals including its means of delivery.
The policy on unconditional non-first use of nuclear weapons has given China the international moral high ground. However, as evidenced at present and for a considerable period of time in the future, the United States regards and will regard China as its main competitor, even adversary. It is vigorously developing various emerging military technologies, beefing up strategic nuclear and non-nuclear forces, constructing new military alliances, and increasing its military presence in our neighboring countries in order to tighten its strategic encirclement against China.
In view of this worsening situation, should we in turn review our policy of non-first use of nuclear weapons, and make necessary "minor adjustments"? For example, our policy of unconditional non-first use of nuclear weapons against nuclear states and no use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-free zones could remain unchanged. However, "unconditional non-first use" does not apply to the United States, unless China and the United States reach a mutual agreement on non-first use of nuclear weapons against each other through negotiations; or the United States does not take any more aggressive measures to undermine China's fundamental interests of strategic security.
Another example is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which is a multilateral export control regime controlled by the United States and other Western countries. For years, despite not being a member of the MTCR, China out of its strategical considerations has maintained a corresponding control over the export of missiles and missile technologies in strict compliance with the MTCR regulations. We also made self-encouragement by saying publicly how positive we have been on the issue.
On the contrary, in recent years, the U.S. has continued to relax restrictions on missile development to countries such as South Korea, upgrade the anti-missile systems deployed in Japan and South Korea, increase sales of offensive weapons to Taiwan, plan to deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles in our neighbors, strengthen its military alliances around our country, and increase its strategic containment against China.
The U.S. has granted itself so many exemptions within the MTCR regime by adopting double standards and seriously threatening China’s strategic security interests. Should we continue to accept U.S. domination in this area, or should we reconsider the benefits of remaining in the MTCR and continuing to comply with its rules? Should we set our own missile export standards in accordance with our own security interests?
In addition to the MTCR, the international community should not give in to the claim of "U.S. exceptionalism" and "America first" with regard to other multilateral arms control treaties.
For example, the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, while China, Russia, and Europe are still in compliance with it. Is that tantamount to acknowledging U.S. exceptionalism? Since the United States has withdrawn from the agreement, we should all withdraw as well without nurturing U.S. exceptionalism.
Similarly, on the DPRK nuclear issue, only lip service was paid to a balanced implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions, also known as "reversible provisions." The United States must strictly adhere to the principle of "simultaneous reciprocity." The DPRK has already taken measures such as blowing up the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, while the United States has so far taken no practical actions in response to the DPRK's concerns. In order to promote a proper resolution of the nuclear issue on the peninsula, as a matter of course, the United States should abolish its hostile policy toward the DPRK, lift its sanctions against the country, and provide security guarantees to the DPRK.
On this issue, we should not just verbally reiterate this position. We could also announce that if the United States does not fully and accurately implement the Security Council resolutions, China will take necessary steps in… and other relevant measures in response. I am afraid that is the only language the United States understands.
Finally, I would like to say that to do a job of arms control, we must enhance the mechanism for and attach importance to the training of a professional team. Our country should have an arms control team that is "able to fight and combat ready". For a long time, we have established a number of effective arms control mechanisms, such as the Office-703, which has trained a large number of professionals and experts. This is a valuable asset for safeguarding our national strategic security interests and an important foundation for the future development of our arms control undertakings.
The international situation is changing rapidly, it can be predicted that in the post-pandemic era, the arms control endeavor will undoubtedly face even more difficult challenges. As China is gaining international status and influence and moves closer and closer to the center of the world stage, we ought to have an arms control team that is politically devoted, professionally dedicated, and hardworking to participate in international arms control negotiations fully, and better safeguard our national interests.
President Xi Jinping pointed out that participation in global governance requires a large number of professionals who are familiar with the Party and national policies, understand our national conditions, have a global perspective, and are proficient in foreign languages, knowledgeable of international rules, and skillful in international negotiations. I would like to stress the need for professionals!
In the field of arms control, the modernization of our institutions and mechanisms and the modernization of our national defense are the two wheels that support each other in building a strong country and its military force. The good or bad outcome of the current and future arms control treaties will inevitably affect and impact the development of our military forces. We should follow President Xi's important instructions, strengthen our proven working mechanisms, enhance our team training, and building up a quality reserve, ensuring that our mechanisms and teams are sustainable and growing.
We should raise this issue to a strategic level. I once had the pleasure to discuss this issue with the relevant senior leader of the Central Organization Department by asking him whether the policy that "our cadres must be revolutionary, young, knowledgeable, and professional" as proposed by Deng Xiaoping back then, has changed today.
He answered that it has not changed. Therefore, I believe that our diplomats should be professional, knowledgeable, revolutionary (goes without saying), and rejuvenated for sure.
Twenty years ago, with the support of all relevant government bodies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up the Association for Arms Control and Disarmament, which has played a significant role in developing Track II arms control diplomacy. As a "veteran" of the arms control team, I expect more new joiners to participate in our arms control endeavor.
This is an undertaking worthy of our endeavors. I look forward to the continued support of all domestic stakeholders including experts and scholars to make new contributions to the development of the arms control undertaking of our country. President Xi once said that one generation is in charge of one generation’s affairs, and I am all for it. I also believe that one generation is better than another. I am an arms control "veteran" in retirement, I should not have spoken much, yet "under instructions" I made some remarks today. Please forgive me if I made wrong remarks, which you can simply ignore.
Thank you all for your attention!