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C3S Dialogue: U.S-China Cooperation on Nuclear Security

C3S Paper No. 0042/2016

The following is a dialogue conducted by C3S members from March 25-27 2016. The theme revolved around U.S-China Cooperation on Nuclear Security.

Col. R. Hariharan,VSM,

Retired Officer of Intelligence Corps, India.


Comments are welcomed on the following article:

“US and China cooperate on largest nuclear security center in Asia-Pacific” (vide

Mr. K. Subramanian

Former Joint Secretary (Retd.)

Ministry of Finance, Government of India.


One is truly surprised to see the dynamism and the imagination of Chinese authorities that they would enter into an agreement/arrangement with the US for nuclear energy training, etc. After so many years of signing an agreement with the US for peaceful use of nuclear energy, we (India) are nowhere near project on the ground. Now we read about this US-China project.

Mr. T.V. Krishnamurthy

Management Professional, Chennai.


Twenty years back no one would have imagined that the US will outsource the manufacture of most of its technology products to China. The imagination of the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and the enterprising spirit of the American Industry created a new world order.

Both the Americans and the Chinese have respect for each other. China, unlike Russia has no qualms about not being equal to the USA in everything. Russia wasted 6 decades, trying to achieve this. But in the end it paid a heavy price with both nationhood and economy.

China is truly oriental .They believe that progressive incrementalism will ensure nonstop growth without destabilizing the state and the economy. Thus China came to be seen as the most stable super power in the world after the US. In a recent national seminar, “Changing Asian Landscape: Role of India and China” Mr. L.V Krishnan highlighted the setting up of almost 120 nuclear reactors by China in the East coast of that country, for energy purposes. The joint initiative between China and the US is only to be expected.

Both countries do not consider each other as enemies, but as adversaries or as partners depending on what one chooses. Doing business with India is very difficult and the politics of nuclear power in the energy sector has made it sure that the agreements signed in 2009 with the US will never ever see the light of the day.

China and India are just not comparable in scale or policy stability.

Col. R. Hariharan

One thinks that, whether one likes it or not, the nation is paying the price for its lethargy and readiness to accept mediocrity in every walk of life in the name of democracy!

Mr. L. V. Krishnan

Former Director – Safety Research Group, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu

L V Krishnan

The U.S believes that its nuclear assets are better safeguarded than in any other country, especially the authoritarian states. During the cold war, U.S engaged the Russians in constant dialogue on nuclear doctrines and security. More so after the collapse of the Soviet Union, working with Russia in carting to safety, Special Nuclear Material found in the former Soviet Republics. U.S.A also helped Russia improve the security arrangements.

Likewise, the U.S also began working with the Chinese in the nineties in what was called a ‘Lab to Lab Programme’ that involved the U.S NW Labs and counterparts in China. This came to a screeching halt when there was a suspicion that China was also engaging in nuclear espionage.

Three factors may be seen as contributing to current U.S concerns leading to resumption of interactions with China. The Great Leap Forward in China’s civil nuclear programme, the emergence of anti-State acts by Uighur extremists and lack of transparency associated with an authoritarian Government. The reported statements by some Chinese officials dismissing the nuclear threat were seen as an indication of complacency.

On its part, China finds cooperating with the US (a) is a means of easier acquisition of relevant technology that would otherwise have to be developed indigenously over time (b) helps demonstrate that it is a responsible nuclear state and (c) could improve its image in the world and enable some cooling of the charged relationship with the US. Reports suggest that in the discussions between scientists from both countries, representatives from the military sector also have been taking part.

While this kind of cooperation is to be seen as between two P5 States, it would appear to be less likely with a non-Member of the Group.

The idea for the recently opened Nuclear Security Centre in Beijing was mooted at the time of the first Nuclear Security Summit six years ago.

The non-proliferation lobby in the US routinely publishes reports on what it sees as the inadequacy of nuclear security measures in China in the civilian sector, calling for a halt to plans to build new plutonium production plants and fast reactors. Recently, the Energy Secretary added his voice to the call. Interestingly, this came when he was in Beijing on an official visit with only a week to go before the fourth Nuclear Security Summit meeting begins later this month.

Mr. T.V. Krishnamurthy

One agrees that it is better to manage and monitor your adversary from within his own systems, than not knowing what is happening. That is standard strategy followed by intelligent nations.

But the scope of the current arrangement nowhere indicates critical technology access by the Chinese.  A very big no. Similarly the Chinese will not be naive to allow Americans to surreptitiously monitor them from within Mainland China. China is still a rising giant and not a spent force. This arrangement is limited to other parameters like safe guards, training and so on so forth. There are no design inputs.

Both nations will work on this cooperative arrangement with great restraint.

Mr. L. V. Krishnan

The U.S is easily the most advanced in the technology for detection of fissile material in various contexts e.g., for material control and accounting in plants handling such material, in activities involving illicit acquisition and transport of such material by unauthorised groups and in nuclear forensics techniques to determine the provenance of the material.

While China funded the Nuclear Security Centre, we learn that it was equipped by the U.S. The day is not far off when China can reverse engineer, produce the instruments and also offer them for sale to others. That of course would help nuclear security overall in the world.

China may not need help in developing devices for monitoring intrusion in sensitive facilities. Nor does one expect China to need assistance in Personnel Reliability Programmes.

China’s willingness to the level of interaction as reported indicates a high degree of confidence in managing it without being affected in any way.

Mr. T.V. Krishnamurthy

We should look at the confidence with which China is partnering with the U.S in nuclear technology of all the things in the world. It is admirable from the point of the self confidence and trust in their leadership capabilities in managing this without being injurious to their respective national interests.

One is tempted to include this as a case study for huge corporations who are competitors, but at the same time cross share their business requirements with rivals. The immediate example is that of Microsoft, and Apple using the cloud from Google to host their data. All of them are competitors and giants in their own ways.

Observe the trust on the extraordinary level of processes that ensure integrity of data in rival cloud servers. One is comparing China and the US at this level. A truly great phenomenon.

Mr. K. Subramanian

It is not only in this area of nuclear security that China is collaborating with the U.S with confidence. In fact, it comes out of their technological advancement already reached and wanting to fill the gaps. China negotiates from a position of strength and not as a supplicant and it distinguishes China from other developing countries, including India. One has seen this in China’s dealing with major giants like Apple, Microsoft, etc. where China insisted on those companies agreeing to China’s specs if they wanted to do business in China. There was no fear that there would be vacuum if the U.S majors left China. China had its own Ali Baba, Baidu and many other national companies which can fill the bill. Therefore, the U.S majors fell in line since they didn’t want to lose the huge market (running to billions of dollars) in China. IBM has entered into collaboration with Chinese companies sharing technology. I dealt with this in a C3S paper titled “IBM made in China” (vide

After the Snowden affair, China began to intensify its cyber war. At one point, Barack Obama was furious and threatened heavy sanctions against China. Ultimately, the U.S entered into an agreement last year with China on cyber security. This was mostly due to the extra-ordinary capability which China, with the help of its own (national!) companies had built. U.S.A had to recognise China’s strength and come to terms with it. Unfortunately, one is not observing similar strength or capability when we (India) negotiate with the US or European countries. One may be wrong – but one does get the feeling that we are always defensive (submissive?) and unable to negotiate from a position of strength. Whatever strength one has noticed is in rhetoric or catch phrases and not on achievements on the ground.

Mr. T.V. Krishnamurthy

In response to Mr. K. Subramanian’s comment that we are not able to negotiate like China: There is just no comparison at all. Let us be honest. We are small in most parameters that define a strong nation like China. Economy, military, governance and above all a culture bordering on daily rebellion. China is Communist- No dissent, huge economy, huge national ambitions, huge military.

Democracy is an apology for all contradictions in our country.

The expertise in China’s and U.S.A’s nuclear technologies can be compared to that in IT. China’s answer to U.S giants like Apple or Google is still in the infancy. Do not overestimate Alibaba or Baidu.  As for IBM, they have sold major stake holding in their laptop manufacturing to Lenovo . But their high end business and security servers still come from the design labs of the U.S and they bear the IBM name.

Even the Chinese are aware of the major gaps that exist in technology areas. Even we can create a Baidu if Google is banned in India. In technology terms it is not difficult. The real litmus test for Alibaba is when their ability competes with Amazon, globally. That is still a far cry.

Ambassador M. Ganapathi, IFS (Retd.) Former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Amb.M. Ganapathy

Comments are welcomed on two reports below on the subject. Incidentally, how does this impact on the Global Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Energy Partnership, which has been set up in India?

“U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz and Chinese Atomic Energy Authority Open New Nuclear Security Training Facility” (vide

“U.S. and China cooperate to thwart nuclear smuggling” (vide

Mr.  L. V. Krishnan

At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, along with China and three other countries, India too proposed setting up a Nuclear Security Centre and called it Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership, with a very broad-based objective not limited to training in nuclear security but extending to R&D in causes, effects and prevention aspects of nuclear security as well. GCNEP was conceived as having five schools, covering 1) proliferation resistant nuclear energy systems, 2) applications of radiation, 3) radiation safety and 4) nuclear material detection and characterisation besides nuclear security proper. Interestingly, NNSA of the US offered to support the GCNEP idea by providing equipment to the tune of US $7 million, a fourth of what was offered to China but still a significant gesture.

Unlike in the case of China, the commissioning of the Centre located in Haryana has met with delays and the building is still a work in progress. The U.S even considered redirecting the offered funds to some other programme.

All we know is that in the past three years, several workshops were conducted by the Centre in Mumbai and other DAE facilities for training at the national level. Last year, a workshop was organised on Advanced Techniques for Special Nuclear Material (SNM) Monitoring in the presence of the Indo-U.S Joint Working Group. Also Indian teams went to two U.S Laboratories for Technical Exchange. One of them was on Advanced Techniques for Special Nuclear Material (SNM) Monitoring Techniques and Detection Architectures and the other was on Simulation Technologies in the areas of Physical Protection, Protective Force and Material Control & Accounting.

It is true that China has considerable leverage over the U.S that India lacks. Nevertheless, the U.S being aware of the difference between the two countries, it seems unlikely that the engagement on the issue of nuclear security with one would be such as to affect the other.

In addition, India has also signed MoUs with France and Russia.

(All views expressed in this dialogue are the members’ own.)

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