Trust-building in the U.S.-Chinese nuclear relationship: impact of operational-level engagement
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The United States and China have been conducting extensive operational-level engagement on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation issues for more than three decades. Many policy-makers and analysts are wondering whether such engagement has contributed to more trust in the two countries' nuclear relationship. The core question that this research seeks to address is: does operational-level engagement between the United States and China increase China's trust towards the United States in their nuclear relationship? And if so, why is this the case and how does this take place? This research distinguishes strategic trust from moralistic trust and examines the impact of operational-level engagement on helping states recognize common interests and/or common moral principles. It fills the gap in existing international relations research that does not answer the question of whether and how trust arises between states that do not imagine or understand there to be common interests or shared moral principles at the inception of engagement. The research uses three cases in the U.S.-Chinese nuclear engagement to show that interaction at the operational-level brings about convergence of perception about common interests at the top-level through building of epistemic community and enhancing bottom-up communication. However, such engagement encourages realpolitik thinking in Chinese nuclear community and therefore undermines moralistic trust between the two countries.