Wednesday May 27, 2020


March 29, 2012


March 27 marked the end of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. The Summit, a follow-up to the first Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC in 2010, aims to help prevent nuclear terrorism by developing a strategy to secure nuclear and radioactive materials, as well as strengthening the international framework for investigating nuclear security. The Summit was attended by the leaders of over 50 countries, including China and the United States, as well as the leaders of the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Interpol.

Nuclear security has been a focus in US-China relations as an issue of common interest to both nations. Since his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama has made nuclear security one of his top priorities. Likewise, Hu Jintao, in a speech at the Summit, highlighted China’s work on nuclear security issues, saying that China has “attached great importance to building nuclear security capacity, earnestly honored its international nuclear security obligations, engaged in extensive international nuclear security cooperation, and worked hard to ensure nuclear security during major public events.” Hu praised the progress made in China since the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, which includes the planned establishment of a Chinese “Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security,” in keeping with a recommendation in the Seoul Communiqué issued at the end of the Summit.

The theme of the Summit, as outlined in the Seoul Communiqué, was to “work toward strengthening nuclear security, reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism, and preventing terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials.” However, the first day of the Summit was largely overshadowed by bilateral meetings taking place on the sidelines, especially those focusing on North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea was not on the agenda of the Summit, but became a flashpoint because of a planned missile launch. North Korea recently announced that it intends to launch a satellite into space as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. Both South Korea and the U.S. claim that the launch is a cover for a ballistic missile test, which means the launch would void an agreement wherein the U.S. would provide food aid in return for a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests by North Korea. South Korea has threatened to shoot down the missile if it passes too close to South Korean airspace.

China Arms Control and Disarmament Association leader Li Hong said he believed that North Korea timed the launch announcement in order to sidetrack discussions at the Nuclear Security Summit, which was the largest international meeting to date held in South Korea. As expected, the Summit was to an extent overshadowed by the potential Korean Peninsula crisis. U.S. President Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Korean President Lee Myung-bak held a trilateral meeting before the summit to discuss the issue. Obama has repeatedly called for China to take a firmer stance on North Korea, accusing China’s government of “rewarding bad behavior [and] turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations”; South Korea has also urged China to place additional pressure on North Korea. However, China fears that too harsh of a stance will cause a flood of refugees to cross the border into China. Thus, President Hu “urged relevant parties to remain calm and exercise restraint, and prevent an escalation of tension” even while he expressed China’s concern over the missile launch.

Despite the remaining tensions over North Korea’s planned missile launch, the Nuclear Security Summit took steps towards nuclear security in other areas. The Council on Foreign Relations notes that both Iran and North Korea combined have less than 1% of the world’s nuclear materials; the Summit focused on securing the vast amounts of nuclear materials held by participating states, a necessary step in preventing nuclear terrorism. The Seoul Communiqué in particular urged countries to lessen their reliance on highly enriched uranium, which is sometimes used in nuclear plants but can also be used in nuclear weapons. The Communiqué also called for increased funding and power to be giving to international group IAEA. While these step are undoubtedly positive, some groups criticized the summit for not going far enough, and especially for not getting any firm commitments from Russia, one of the world’s largest holders of nuclear material. Nuclear security will continue to be an international point of interest, and a focus of U.S.-China relations, for years to come.


For further information on the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit and the North Korean missile launch, please see the following news sources:

China Daily – “Hu stresses hard-won easing of Korean tension – “Hu: China active in nuclear security

Council on Foreign Relations – “The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit: Obama’s Work in Progress”

Council on Foreign Relations – “Seoul Communiqué at 2012 Nuclear Security Summit

The Korea Times – “Summit in retrospect

Reuters – “Obama to China: Help rein in North Korea

Washington Post – “Don’t allow North Korea launch plans to dominate nuclear security summit, China expert says

Washington Post – “Nuclear Security Summit ends with whimper, not a bang

Xinhua – “Chinese president delivers important speech at Seoul Nuclear Security Summit


Edited and compiled by Shannon Reed.