While Chinese President Hu Jintao’s decision to attend the Nuclear Security Summit is being hailed as a sign of improving Sino-US relations, President Hu’s speech at the summit suggests that rough times still lie ahead. In his speech at the summit, President Hu apparently focused on the importance of honoring national commitments towards nuclear security, strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation, helping developing countries improve nuclear security, consolidating existing international legal measures, and demarcating the relationship between nuclear security and nuclear energy. None of these measures, in and of themselves, are objectionable, just as the goal of the summit, to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist organizations, is laudable.

The question is: Where’s the beef?

When it comes to actually compelling Iran, a supporter of terrorist organizations, to abide by its obligations under the NPT, China has shown little stomach for the necessary measures. Similarly, one suspects that the Chinese will also fail to enforce sanctions against anyone else who fails to honor national commitments.

Where the Chinese proposals constitute an interesting revelation is the idea of consolidating the existing international conventions. These are The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This underscores the longstanding Chinese interest in having a role in the formulation of new international legal regimes.

Unfortunately, if Chinese treatment of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is an indicator, China’s will be trying to manipulate the system solely for its own ends. Indeed, China’s idiosyncratic readings of how its Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) are measured and its right to access the Arctic suggest that the intent is not to promote international law, but to secure Chinese interests through the use of legal warfare or “lawfare.”

Thus, while the Hu Jintao’s proposals may merit further study, said examinations should be undertaken with a careful eye towards loopholes and fuzzy language that the Chinese will exploit to the fullest.