(2016-03-25)With a bilateral training and research center inaugurated ahead of the upcoming Washington Nuclear Security Summit, China and the United States are eyeing further cooperation on nuclear security.
CHINA-U.S. NUCLEAR SECURITY CENTER
In December 2013, ground was broken in the southwestern suburb of Beijing for the construction of the China-U.S. nuclear security center, Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security.
More than two years later, the center -- a compound with labs, exhibition areas, classrooms and test sites was erected in early spring.
"This Center of Excellence is a world-class facility for Chinese, regional, and international nuclear security training and technical exchanges," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at the center's opening ceremony on March 18 in Beijing.
Occupying roughly four blocks, the China-U.S. facility will be used to conduct research and train staff from China and other Asian nations on issues such as securing hazardous nuclear materials and protecting reactors from attacks.
It is the largest nuclear program financed by both the Chinese and U.S. governments, and also the largest nuclear security center in the Asia-Pacific region.
Described by Moniz as "exemplary," the project was born from the consensus between Beijing and Washington that nuclear terrorism poses a real danger to all, and national leaders can do their part to strengthen every link on the global nuclear security chain.
The two countries' interests are closely aligned on the issue, said Shen Dingli, a member of the Global Council of New York-based Asia Society and a nuclear security expert with China's Fudan University.
The current global regime for keeping nuclear materials away from wrong hands is far from seamless as there are no globally agreed standards for effectively securing nuclear materials, and terrorists are exploiting loopholes in security.
At the moment, making a crude terrorist bomb is far easier than making a safe, reliable weapon, and it is quite possible to make an improvised nuclear device from highly enriched uranium or plutonium being used for civilian purposes, nuclear experts have warned.
"Both China and the United States have nuclear power plants that house nuclear fissile materials and radioactive materials. They certainly do not want these materials to be touched by terrorists," Shen said.
"The two countries share the same interests and they want to seek ways to cooperate. The joint venture to build a Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security in Beijing is an example," he said.
Meanwhile, the timing of the center's launch, just ahead of the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington on March 31 and April 1, put the China-U.S. cooperation on a more positive note.
NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMITS
This year, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to join 50-plus world leaders in Washington to discuss issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism at the biennial global security summit.
"I am very confident that President Xi and President (Barack) Obama are going to talk about the appetite that both of our countries have to continue our cooperation," said the U.S. energy secretary.
The summit is the fourth and final of a series of summits that aim to develop an accountable global architecture to prevent nuclear terrorism. The first summit was held in Washington in 2010 at the initiative of Obama.
Top Chinese leaders took part in all the previous three nuclear security summits, which analysts say threw great political weight behind the global undertaking and bilateral cooperation on nuclear security.
"I think it is very positive that President Xi has participated in the summits and has made some quite forthright statements on the importance of nuclear security, on the reality of threat of nuclear terrorism," said Matthew Bunn, a former White House adviser and expert at Harvard Kennedy School.
"There has been a fair amount of common ground (between the two countries) on nuclear security. And I think the cooperation between the United States and China has been very positive," Bunn said.
At the 2014 summit held in The Hague, the Netherlands, Xi said nuclear security is a global endeavor and that more countries should be brought into the international nuclear security process.
Obama also considers nuclear terrorism as one of the greatest threats to international security and has called for action to strengthen the global nuclear security regime.
During Xi's state visit to the United States last September, the two presidents agreed to deepen their cooperation on nuclear security.
BILATERAL NUCLEAR ENGAGEMENT
High-level consensus on nuclear security is not just symbolic, but has produced tangible results.
Over the past decade, the two countries have been staying on the same page in efforts to ensure a world is free of the peril of nuclear terrorism as well as in other non-traditional security areas, such as climate change.
"China-U.S. nuclear security cooperation has been greatly strengthened over the past 10 years," said Hui Zhang, who heads the Harvard Kennedy School's research initiative on China's nuclear policies.
The bilateral nuclear engagement, Zhang said, includes in-depth training and workshops to discuss topics ranging from approaches to the design of physical protection systems and steps to strengthen security culture, to cooperation in building the Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security.
Bunn echoed Zhang's words. "I think there are more to be done, but there is a lot that has been done," he said, adding that bilateral cooperation can go even further.
"There are more to be done together to train and motivate other countries in East Asia on nuclear security," he said.
Zhang suggested that the two countries increase bilateral cooperation on nuclear security in the civilian sector and expand it to the military sector.
However, consensus and willingness alone can not ensure their future cooperation will be friction-free, nuclear experts say.
"The devil is in the details," Shen said, referring to the sensitivity of each country's nuclear information.
Zhang suggested that the two governments restart their lab-to-lab technical exchange program conducted from 1995 to 1998.
"As first steps, the program should begin with less sensitive activities that are identified as mutually beneficial," he said.