Journalist | Writer | Analyst
31 July 2004
The Times of India
Beijing: As deputy secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, Zhai Dequan is one of China’s leading experts on arms control and international security. In an interview with Siddharth Varadarajan, he spells out the Chinese view on the Bush administration’s controversial Proliferation Security Initiative and the call by Natwar Singh for a joint India-China-Pakistan approach to nuclear security:
In his very first press conference, India’s new external affairs minister raised the possibility of India, Pakistan and China having discussions on a joint nuclear doctrine. What is the Chinese view of this proposal?
First of all, in my personal view, India and Pakistan are approaching each other and are engaging themselves in finding joint efforts in the direction of peace. This is very positive. As far as the nuclear issue is concerned, however, this has to be settled at the level of the United Nations. There is, after all, UN Security Council resolution 1172 (which calls on both India and Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapons). This issue has to be ironed out at that level before China, as an individual member of the Security Council, can get involved in such consultations.
But aren’t India and Pakistan de facto nuclear weapons states?
Yes, they are. But a decision has to be taken by the Security Council. The nuclear reality is there, but resolution 1172 is also there. It takes time to iron these things out.
During the Vajpayee government’s tenure, India was one of only a handful of countries to endorse the missile defence programme of the US. Is China hopeful of a change in India’s stand now?
In my personal view, it was unreasonable for India to give encouragement to America’s missile defence plans. The leaders of India and China have declared that neither country constitutes a threat to the other. I think that the support of the Indian government for missile defence was more political than military. There is little military significance at present, though it is said that there will be more later. In any case, the US is still developing its systems and many important scientists there have told me that missile defence is not practical in a war situation.
The US has launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through the high seas. China has been approached to join but Beijing seems to have reservations. What is your view?
Generally speaking, we support the principle of still wider arms control and non-proliferation of WMD and delivery systems. This is almost a key aspect of our national policy, unlike earlier — say in the 1960s and 1970s — when we said ‘non-proliferation’ is a weapon aimed against the developing countries. As far as PSI is concerned, China supports the principal aim but this does not mean we support the means. There are several problems.
First, in all previous conventions or treaties signed by the majority of the international community, none of the articles relate to the flow or transfer of these weapons from one place to another.
Second, the PSI is not in conformity with international law, the UN Charter, especially as far as sovereignty and territorial integrity are concerned. It is not in conformity with normal practice, especially with respect to the Law of the Seas, and the right of free passage without harm.
Third, there are questions about the credibility of information and intelligence. The most striking example is the invasion of Iraq, allegedly because of WMD and the claim that Saddam was linked to Osama bin Laden. This information was questionable — but it was based on ‘state of the art’ intelligence provided by agencies like the CIA, FBI and NSA. And based on this wrong information, the US took a wrong decision.
A Chinese ship, the ‘Yinhe’, was falsely detained by the US Navy some years back…
Precisely. In the ‘Yinhe’ incident, the Americans were proved wrong. But they never even gave an apology or paid compensation to the ship owners. Can we, as a responsible country, do this to others? If there is to be interdiction of shipping under the PSI, the compensation system has to be systematic.
Is there a danger that the PSI may also target trade in so-called dual use items?
Yes. There is a certain standardisation of materials and technologies between civil and military use. So there are many items that are ‘dual use’, especially in the nuclear and chemical field. How are the rules governing trade in these items to be standardised across countries? And who will judge? At least there should be an authoritative international organisation that is in charge instead of an individual or group of countries. The UN should be brought into full play. A group of countries is not mandated to act and its actions would very often violate the interests of other countries. That is why I feel if the PSI is not well handled, it will cause instability, turbulence, even military confrontation and conflict.
Do you think the PSI would end up targeting mostly Chinese and North Korean ships?
There is a fear that Chinese and DPRK shipping will most likely be affected, especially for ‘dual-use’ items. We firmly believe that whenever a problem exists, it is better to have a discussion rather than resort to the use of force. And to reach unanimity on such initiatives, one must use the UN, the Conference on Disarmament and other such fora.