Many observers seemed surprised by China’s muted reaction to the Bush administration’s December 13 announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. But analysts should not have been surprised. Since early 2001, Beijing had steadily toned down its anti-missile defense rhetoric and over the past year had gradually come to tolerate—while still opposing—the U.S. missile shield effort. The ability of the United States and China to keep a lid on heated and damaging rhetoric opens the door to a more serious dialogue that, if carefully managed, may help avert undesirable outcomes arising from the changing strategic nuclear dynamic between them.
With the ABM Treaty withdrawal announcement past, the questions are, how did China come to this more subdued position, and can it last?