The Politics of Nuclear Commemoration in Asia: The China Case

In the study of China’s foreign affairs, historians like to suggest that the past is always present. A ‘Century of Humiliation’ in the nineteenth century or fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s are often referenced. Yet another historic development, namely China’s development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s, is often absent from this assessment. In contrast to many other nuclear weapons states, China has largely been quiet about its nuclear past. Only in the last years of former leader Hu Jintao (2003‒2012) and now the current leader, Xi Jinping (2013‒) has China started to commemorate its nuclear weapons development more seriously. This talk sets out to understand both the nature and timing of this commemoration within China but also the wider implications of nuclear commemoration for regional and international security. Ultimately, under Xi Jinping, China’s nuclear past is finally becoming present.