In November 1996, I had the good fortune to attend an ISODARCO conference in Chengdu, with the added bonus of a side trip to visit China’s nuclear laboratory complex at Mianyang. Back then, ISODARCO – an enterprising Italian NGO founded in 1966 by Edoardo Amaldi and Carlo Schaerf — had somehow managed to corner the market on Track II conversations on strategic issues with Chinese counterparts. Not sure how the Italians managed to do this.
To my knowledge, the Mianyang visit was the first of its kind. Needless to say, foreign visitors were on a very short leash, but our entry was a significant gesture by our Chinese hosts, demonstrating serious intent to engage on strategic issues. These doors were soon closed as a result of the Cox Commission inquiry and report.
Jeffrey, our ACW information-gathering omnivore, somehow got ahold of my trip report and passed it along. My seventeen year-old assessment demonstrates, in dismaying detail, how ritualistic the anxieties over missile defenses have become. Countries of concern may have changed – back then, coercive PLA missile tests prompted debates over selling TMD to Taiwan — but not much else. Have a look: