Did Chinese President Hu Jintao's participation in the Washington nuclear summit help reverse the deterioration of US-China relations? Two scholars express their different views.
Xue Litai: A turning point in US-China relations
Leaders or representatives from 47 countries recently attended the nuclear security summit in Washington. By holding a bilateral meeting with US President Barrack Obama and delivering an important speech at the summit, Hu Jintao highlighted China's positive image for people across the globe and helped reverse the deterioration of US-China relations.
Obviously, it takes a long path toward establishing a global mechanism to counter nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Many of these leaders were not quite sure whether they would come away from the summit empty-handed.
However, they decided to attend the summit mainly to respond positively to Obama, who had launched a number of initiatives to build a nuclear-free world. The same is true for Hu Jintao and his decision to attend the summit.
Hu's visit to Washington will help lead the bilateral relations toward a positive direction. Although some disputes continue between the two countries, Hu's visit to Washington will no doubt contribute to lowering US hostility toward China.
Earlier, the rapid increase in GDP had stimulated some Chinese diplomats to take blind pride in dealing with their foreign counterparts. Now, it is time to rethink whether it is necessary to adhere to the well-established principle of keeping a low profile in handling Sino-American relations.
China's GDP will soon become the second largest in the world. Who is the greatest beneficiary from the pursuance of this principle over the past three decades? Needless to say, it is China.
Now, China is just halfway through its course of "peaceful rise." In the foreseeable future, the United States will remain the No. 1 power in the world. Two decades from now, who will become the greatest beneficiary if China, as the biggest developing country, is able to maintain stable relations with Washington? Obviously, the answer is China.
In his opening statement at the summit, Obama pointed out that in today's world, the world has reduced the risk of a nuclear war between big powers, but the threat of nuclear terrorist assaults is increasing. He is right. Terrorists can penetrate all places throughout the world without leaving a trace.
It is difficult for all major powers, especially the United States, to detect and prevent them from launching assaults including sudden attacks with "dirty bombs" as weapons. As such, the whole world faces the most serious security challenge.
Such a strategic assessment prompted Obama to convene the nuclear security summit as well as his earlier initiative of "a world free of nuclear weapons." Preoccupied by this assessment, he has spared no effort to promote the campaign of countering nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
To fight nuclear terrorism, the summit focused on establishing an international nuclear security mechanism. The United States and many countries face the threat of nuclear terrorism. China is no exception.
In case the East Turkistan separatists consider the timing is mature to intensify conflicts with Beijing, they will no doubt take whatever means necessary to penetrate nuclear facilities or acquire "dirty bombs." Moreover, the large-scale construction of nuclear power plants in China introduces more security challenges. China will be in the peak period of building such plants in the next two decades.
The ongoing construction of such plants scattered in coastal areas would expose the nation to threat. A terrorist attack on even one plant would result in consequences more serious than that of detonating a nuclear bomb over a city. Taking this into account, Beijing has adopted various measures to strengthen nuclear security in recent years.
As a positive response from China to the international community, Hu Jintao made the decision to attend the summit, which reflects that Beijing and Washington actually are sharing common interests by making joint efforts to establish a global mechanism for countering nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
This action indicates that Beijing regards nuclear terrorist assaults as a huge threat to national security interests and it hopes to strengthen international cooperation to limit or even eliminate this type of threat.
Also, this decision has indeed enabled China to avert a head-on collision with the United States and helped reverse a deterioration of US-China relations. Based on this, we can suppose that Beijing is able to conduct strategic adjustment at a critical moment and formulate appropriate foreign policies.
The author is a research associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.