Bush official urges China to lift nuclear secrecy

China's unyielding secrecy about its nuclear arms strategies leaves open the worrying prospect of a costly U.S. misstep during a crisis, President George W. Bush's top Asia adviser said Wednesday.
"By being mysterious they give themselves a degree of edge," Dennis Wilder, the senior director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Council, told a gathering of Asia specialists and reporters.
Washington and Beijing began a discussion last year about each side's nuclear strategies and systems, but Wilder said the need to prompt greater Chinese openness grows more important as they develop mobile land-based nuclear missiles and move closer to fielding sea-based nuclear ballistic missile forces.
"The difficulty I see is that with the extreme secrecy that the Chinese put around their programs, Chinese nuclear strategy and doctrine is really a black box," he said, adding that this impedes U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to understand when Chinese military movements might be threatening.
The U.S. needs to know, for example, what to expect to see at various levels of Chinese military alert, he said. The equivalent information about U.S. military doctrine is known to the Chinese and others.
"At different levels of alert, American forces do certain things. That is not something we know much about on the Chinese side," Wilder said. "Without that information, you do worry about miscalculation. Right now the American-Chinese relationship is in great shape. But we all know periods when it hasn't been. And I worry about those moments when the Chinese military, let's say, flushes to the field."
Such a moment might simply be a Chinese exercise _ or not. Such uncertainty can lead to missteps, he said, and yet the Chinese thus far have not been convinced that more openness would be in their interest.
"On the Chinese side there is a reluctance to have that discussion because it's an ace," he said, referring to their desire to keep in the dark a potential adversary like the U.S. that has a much larger nuclear force.
He also expressed doubt that China would join the United States and Russia in negotiations over reducing the number of their deployed nuclear weapons. At her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton said the incoming Obama administration is willing to further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal as long as the Russians reciprocate. She did not mention China in this.
Clinton gave little indication of Obama's intentions regarding China, particularly in the security arena.
"China is critically important as an actor who will be changing the global landscape," Clinton said. "We want a positive and cooperative relationship with China, one where we deepen and strengthen our ties on a number of issues and candidly address differences where they persist. But this is not a one-way effort. Much of what we will do depends on the choices China makes about its future at home and abroad."
Wilder said he accepts the Chinese assertion that they would not fire first in a nuclear exchange.
"But I do think they want that retaliatory capability and I think they would be very reluctant to give that up," he said.
Wilder is leaving government service and is expected to be succeeded in the Obama White House by Jeffrey A. Bader, a career China and East Asia expert who is now director of the Brookings Institution's China studies office.
Wilder also urged China to take advantage of what Wilder called an opportunity to further reduce tensions with Taiwan during the term of President Ma Ying-jeou, a politician from the Beijing-friendly Nationalist Party.
Thus far the Chinese and the Taiwanese, by addressing specific areas of their relations one category at a time, have taken "too mechanical" an approach, Wilder said. They should move immediately to security issues, he added.
"The Chinese side needs to answer some questions" about why they are continuing their military buildup opposite Taiwan, Wilder said. "I think it's a bit of a dodge to say, `Well, we're taking this sequentially.' I think this should, and needs to, move a bit faster," he said.

Updated : 2021-04-18 20:17 GMT+08:00