In the mass media lately—and in presidential tweets—China has often come off poorly, due in part to the Chinese government’s authoritarian stance on human rights, its trade practices, its reliance on heavy-handed surveillance of its population, and its recent history of suppressing debate.
But in at least one area, the Chinese government shines: nuclear security.
In fact, when it comes to nuclear security policies and practices, as well as laws, regulations, management, monitoring, and the structure of emergency response, the country is unusually transparent—and readily meets international standards. As a result, China is poised to play a leading role in global nuclear risk reduction efforts in the coming decades, at home and abroad. This trend can be seen by China’s many commitments within the Nuclear Security Summit process, its cooperation in bilateral nuclear security structures with the United States, and its efforts to remove highly enriched uranium from a Nigerian research reactor (that China itself played a role in building).
But what do recent Chinese nuclear security efforts reveal about how China will approach setting the agenda for the future? And how is China’s approach likely to evolve in the coming decades as arms control becomes less prominent, China becomes a larger exporter of nuclear technology and materials, and China asserts its own priorities in other forums?