CHINA> National
Nuclear cooperation prospects unclear
By Li Xiaokun and Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-27 08:49

Chinese experts said on Friday US President-elect Barack Obama's proposal to resume exchanges with Chinese nuclear weapons laboratories would accelerate bilateral nuclear energy cooperation. However, they also said it is difficult to predict China's response.

The Washington Times reported on Thursday that Obama had said in an interview with Arms Control Today magazine that in addition to holding a strategic nuclear dialogue with China, he wants to resume "laboratory to laboratory exchanges that were terminated in the 1990s".

Zhou Shijian, a senior researcher with Tsinghua University's Center for China-US Relations Studies, said Obama's proposal would boost Sino-US cooperation on the "peaceful utilization of nuclear energy", which is the major goal of nuclear laboratory exchanges.

"Nuclear energy will replace large aircrafts to provide the greatest business opportunities between China and the US in the future," said Zhou, who witnessed the decades of uneven Sino-US negotiations on nuclear energy cooperation.

It would benefit both countries, because it would bring a substantial amount of jobs and profit to the US, while helping China update its nuclear energy facilities, Zhou said.

China plans to build four nuclear energy power plants every year until 2020, with each plant to cost an estimated 10 billion yuan, he said.

However, Fan Jishe, a senior researcher of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it is still tricky to predict China's response to Obama's proposal, as Washington's "Chinese espionage" smear during previous exchanges deeply hurt Beijing.

Beijing and Washington engaged in such exchanges in the 1990s. But these faltered in the late 1990s, as US intelligence and security officials accused China of using the program to extract classified information through question-and-answer sessions with US scientists.

This led to the case of Los Alamos National Laboratory Chinese-born American scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was accused but never convicted of passing nuclear secrets to China.

In 1999, the CIA produced an assessment claiming China obtained data on every deployed nuclear weapon. But the FBI never identified any "spy" who allegedly gave China the data.

Lee was freed in September 2000. At his plea hearing, Judge James Parker of the US District Court, New Mexico, apologized for the "unfair manner" in which he was detained.

Fan said the "lies deeply hurt" China then, so Beijing did not answer the Bush administration's calls for bilateral strategic nuclear talks.

Obama has vowed to push the US Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, with some reports claiming the US may ratify the treaty within two years.