Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:15 | SYDNEY
Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:15 | SYDNEY

China nuclear diversion


Sam Roggeveen


13 August 2009 14:44

In a fairly pedestrian speech* last night on Australia's role in non-proliferation and disarmament, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith referred to China's attitude to global nuclear disarmament, saying 'China’s Foreign Minister Yang will address the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on these issues today. I look forward to seeing his own contribution.'

Smith might be disappointed by what he sees today. Although Yang made supportive noises about the prohibition of nuclear weapons, he placed special emphasis on the need to prevent the weaponisation of outer space. Since the prospect of such weaponisation is pretty low at present, this is not at the top of anyone else's agenda.

But as I discovered when talking with various universities and institutes in China earlier this year, raising space weaponisation is a common Chinese tactic to divert attention from what China might do to promote disarmament.

Yang is right to point out that China has been remarkably restrained in building its own nuclear arsenal, which is still modest in size. But two of China's friends — Pakistan and North Korea — are nuclear breakout states, and if rumours of Burma's flirtation with nukes prove to have substance (at present, they probably don't), China will have built up an unenviable record. There's lots more it could be doing.

* A note from someone in the room last night, who says the speech was 'well received, with the Iranian Ambassador feeling REALLY pissed off. He tried to make an interjection, but the audience just got up and walked away before he could get a word in.'

Photo by Flickr user Fran Simo, used under a Creative Commons license.