Bombs from Beijing: A Report on China’s Nuclear and Missile Exports

In April 1991, U.S. intelligence revealed that China was selling Pakistan a nuclear-capable missile and selling Algeria a reactor that could make nuclear weapon material.

These revelations come at a time when Sino-American trade relations are at a crossroads. By June 3, 1991, President Bush must decide whether to renew China’s “most-favored nation” trading status, a benefit worth billions of dollars to Chinese exporters. Revoking the status would increase American tariffs as much as tenfold on Chinese goods.

This report reviews China’s nuclear and missile export record over the past decade. The study finds that:

  • During the 1980s, China secretly supplied nuclear and missile technology to South Asia, South America, South Africa and the Middle East.
  • In each region, China’s exports contributed to the success of secret nuclear and missile programs, some of which have resulted in nuclear weapons and the deployment of nuclear-capable missiles.
  • These exports have continued despite U.S. diplomatic efforts to stop them and Chinese pledges to conform to non-proliferation norms.
  • To influence China’s export policy, the United States should suspend China’s status as a “most favored nation” until China makes binding nonproliferation commitments. If necessary, the United States should also bar U.S. high-technology exports to China.


In 1983, American intelligence agents made a surprising discovery: for the first time, one developing country had given another the complete design of a tested nuclear weapon. The supplier was China, the recipient Pakistan. According to U.S. officials with first-hand knowledge, American intelligence agents had penetrated the Pakistan nuclear program so thoroughly that they even knew the catalogue numbers of some parts the Pakistanis were buying from foreign suppliers. To buttress their complaints to Pakistan, U.S. officials had their nuclear weapon experts produce a model of the bomb design, which they displayed to Pakistani diplomats. The model was about the size of a soccer ball, with multiple detonators spaced around its surface. Experts at the U.S. weapons laboratories had analyzed the design and found that it would work every time, even with small errors in manufacture.

U.S. officials now confirm that China also transferred enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel the design. It is unclear exactly how much uranium Pakistan received, but it has been reported that China gave Pakistan enough for two bombs. If the design was the same as the one for China’s fourth test device, as reported, its yield could be as high as 20 to 25 kilotons, twice the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

The Chinese design was the foundation of Pakistan’s subsequent efforts. Since mid-1985, Pakistan has manufactured parts to match the design specifications, tested the parts one by one, and tested the whole design with a dummy fuel core. According to a study confirmed by U.S. officials, Pakistan now has a workable bomb weighing only four hundred pounds.[1]

Despite China’s aid to Pakistan, U.S. officials initialed an ambitious nuclear trade agreement with China barely a year later, in April 1984. The accord followed a much-publicized toast at a White House dinner in January 1984, in which Premier Zhao announced that China does not “engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries to develop nuclear weapons.”[2] It was on the strength of the toast that the agreement was initialed in April.

But no sooner that the agreement was initialed, Chinese scientists were observed still working at Pakistan’s secret Kahuta complex, helping Pakistan produce its own weapon-strength uranium with gas centrifuges. This cast doubt on the January toast. In addition, Section 129 of the Atomic Energy Act forbade U.S. nuclear exports to any country that assisted a non-nuclear weapon state–which Pakistan clearly was–in developing a nuclear weapon capability. According to a Reagan administration official, the new information “raised certain questions about how the Chinese interpret their nonproliferation policies.”[3]

The agreement remained in limbo until June 1985, when a team of Reagan officials was sent to Beijing for further discussions. There they claimed to have received more assurances–which the Chinese declined to put in writing. The administration refused to reveal the content of the assurances or to transmit a written version of them to Congress. Nevertheless, relying on Beijing’s new oral statements in June, the administration sent the agreement to Congress in July 1985. To support it, the administration supplied a “Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement” written by the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.[4] The assessment predicted that the Chinese would act “in a manner consistent with the basic non-proliferation practices common to the United States and other suppliers.” It also said that “discussions with China…since the initialing of the proposed Agreement have contributed…to a shared understanding with China of what it means not to assist other countries to acquire nuclear explosives.” The report concluded that “China has now declared its opposition to proliferation and taken concrete steps toward global non-proliferation norms and practices.”

But throughout the summer of 1984–well after the toast at the White House–China had been secretly shipping sensitive nuclear material to Pakistan’s rival, India–material that would allow India to start building a nuclear arsenal. And, as explained below, China’s nuclear help to Pakistan was to continue.

In 1986, according to criminal justice officials in West Germany, two German firms agreed to provide about 50 grams of pure tritium to Pakistan via Switzerland, but Pakistan suddenly canceled the sale. China, the Germany officials said, had agreed to supply the tritium at a lower price. Tritium is used in hydrogen bombs to achieve thermonuclear fusion and in A-bombs to boost the yield obtained by fission. According to observers in the industry, China emerged as a tritium supplier in the mid-1980s, making offers to several potential buyers in Europe and North America. With a supply of tritium, Pakistan could powerfully boost the yield of its first generation nuclear weapons. Tritium-induced boosting can make a fission bomb more dependable and much more powerful, allowing it to destroy entire cities.

In 1989 there were reports that China had supplied special magnets for stabilizing the centrifuges Pakistan was using to make weapon-grade uranium at Kahuta, and that China was preparing a test site to explode a Pakistani bomb at China’s Lop Nor proving ground. Pakistan is now believed to have enough weapon-grade uranium for about ten bombs, at least twice and possibly several times as powerful as the device dropped on Hiroshima.

China has also helped Pakistan develop nuclear-capable missiles. According to the New York Times, China assisted in the development of Pakistan’s first nuclear-capable missiles, the Hatf-I and Hatf-II, which were tested in February 1989 and flew 50 and 185 miles respectively.[5]

In April 1991, the Wall Street Journal reported that China was in the process of selling Pakistan a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.[6] U.S. officials confirmed that the deal was for the M-11, China’s nuclear-capable, solid-fuel missile with a range of about 185 miles. U.S. intelligence had sighted mobile launchers for the M-11 in Pakistan. The M-11’s range falls precisely at the limit set by the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement among missile supplier nations not to export missiles that could carry a nuclear-sized payload 185 miles. China is not a member of the Regime, which its export to Pakistan appears to undermine.


At the same time that China was helping Pakistan, it was helping India. From 1982 to 1987, China secretly sold at least 130 to 150 tons of “heavy water” to India through a West German nuclear materials broker named Alfred Hempel, an ex-Nazi who died in 1989. Heavy water looks and tastes like ordinary water but is used to operate reactors that make plutonium, a nuclear weapon material.

After prodding by the U.S. government, German auditors opened Hempel’s books in 1983 and found that for 46.5 million German marks, Hempel had already made shipments of 60 tons of Chinese heavy water to Bombay in 1982 and 1983. The Chinese could have been under no illusions about where the water was going. Ton quantities of heavy water are only required for reactors, and the only reactors in the world that needed large quantities of heavy water in the mid-1980s were in India.

The Chinese water was decisive for India’s nuclear weapon potential. Because the Chinese water was sold secretly, with no strings attached, it allowed India for the first time to start a reactor entirely free of international controls–meaning that the plutonium the reactor made would be free to go into atomic bombs.

India’s own effort to produce heavy water had failed. In 1983 India needed 240 to 250 tons of heavy water to start its new Madras-I reactor, which was sitting idle because India’s heavy water plants could not produce enough to fill it. India’s heavy water plants had not made more than 180 tons, leaving a shortage of 60 to 70 tons.[7] To get the remainder, India had to import it, and all of the legitimate exporters required international inspection of any reactor into which their heavy water was loaded. This meant that if India bought heavy water from legitimate exporters, plutonium produced with the heavy water in Madras-I could not be used to make bombs. But with the 60 tons of Chinese heavy water, India could avoid these requirements. Madras-I could be started free of controls and India–for the first time–could build a nuclear arsenal.

China continued to supply India with heavy water until 1987. China shipped 25.1 tons in April 1984, 20 tons in May, and another 20 tons in August. This was well after the White House toast in January 1984. In a series of “talking points,” apparently prepared in 1986 or 1987 for delivery to West Germany, U.S. officials expressed their concern that Hempel was preparing to ship another 17 tons of Chinese water outside international inspection. The U.S. officials noted that “we have brought this matter to the attention of the Chinese government so that it can take whatever steps it can to avoid a possible circumvention of its safeguards policy.” Nevertheless, China shipped another 16.7 tons with Hempel’s assistance in 1987, again with no strings attached.

Altogether, India was able to import enough clandestine heavy water from China to start at least one and possibly two more reactors free of controls. The three reactors together now make enough plutonium for about 40 atomic bombs per year.

Experts in the 1980s found it difficult to believe that China would help a regional rival acquire nuclear weapons. However, it was revealed later that Chinese officials were bribed. German audits now show that on April 17, 1985, Hempel paid a bribe of 6,500 DM to his partners in China for heavy water shipments.[8] The bribe highlights the corruption in the Chinese export system, and raises the issue of how best to influence China’s behavior under such conditions.


On May 18, 1981, U.S. officials alerted West Germany to an impending Chinese nuclear shipment from Hong Kong to Argentina:

    We have reason to believe that the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation… concluded a contract with Alfred Hempel…for the sale by China of uranium yellow cake, heavy water, uranium hexafloride that is probably medium enriched, and low enriched uranium hexafloride destined for…Argentina.[9]

The American officials had strong views on the effect of the shipment. Through diplomatic correspondence, they said that “we are concerned that the material will not be subject to IAEA safeguards, and thus could eventually be used in a nuclear explosive program.”[10] In another note at the end of May, the State Department revealed that the British, after expressing “disquiet” to the Chinese, had blocked the shipment through Hong Kong.[11] Then, at U.S. urging, the government of Luxembourg had stopped an attempt to ship it through the Luxembourg airport.

The shipment nevertheless went through. In May 1981 Argentina received the Chinese uranium concentrate (possibly 45 tons) or low-enriched uranium hexafluoride, and on June 3 Air France flew about 10 tons of Chinese heavy water through Paris to Buenos Aires.[12] Both the uranium and the heavy water could help Argentina make atomic bombs.

In response to the shipment, American diplomats sent off a flurry of cables and memos. In response to one of them, German diplomats asked their Chinese counterparts to explain the nuclear transactions with Alfred Hempel. Assistant Foreign Minister Song Zhigaung answered on August 26, 1981. He said that in November 1980, China had made its first contract with Hempel for “smaller amounts of lightly enriched uranium,” delivered in May 1981. Hempel, said Song, guaranteed that “the end user was in the Federal Republic of Germany and that the delivery was destined for peaceful use.” Song admitted, however, that “different countries have informed China that the fuel reached Argentina.”[13]

The French also asked for explanations. The heavy water, after being blocked in Hong Kong and Luxembourg, had finally been routed through Paris on Air France. After meetings in Beijing in July, the French reported their conclusions in a cable to West Germany:

    One receives the impression that … those in Peking have no real policy and specialists, and that, for the present, each Chinese department tries in its own way to bring in the much sought-after foreign exchange.[14]

Diplomatic correspondence shows that Hempel routed roughly 50 additional tons of Chinese heavy water to Argentina in 1982, well after Song had been told that Hempel was diverting the shipments. Thus, China continued to deal with Hempel even though it was already receiving a stream of complaints about him. As noted above, China continued to ship heavy water to India through Hempel until 1987. It was impossible for the Chinese not to know that the water was going into uninspected reactors.

Altogether, the Chinese heavy water shipments to Argentina were sufficient to run an uninspected reactor large enough to make a few atomic bombs per year. Although Argentina does not seem to have built such a reactor yet, there is still a risk that it could do so. Argentina has not joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

It is unclear how much low-enriched uranium Argentina actually received. If used as feed material in an enrichment plant, the Chinese uranium could multiply Argentine production of highly-enriched uranium for bombs by roughly a factor of three. Argentina has already installed a small amount of uninspected enrichment equipment.


Brazil, like its rival Argentina, has received clandestine shipments of Chinese uranium. In 1984, China sold Brazil uranium enriched to three, seven, and twenty percent in three shipments totaling 200kg. Brazilian officials have confirmed the purchases. China made the sales secretly, without requiring inspection, probably soon after the toast given at the White House in January 1984.

China may also have contributed to Brazil’s effort to build nuclear-capable missiles. In 1985 Brazil agreed to trade its solid fuel technology to China for Chinese help in liquid fuel technology and missile guidance. According to General Hugo Piva, who was then in charge of Brazilian missile research efforts, Brazilian engineers on an exploratory visit to China were shown “everything we wanted to see,” and the Chinese were “willing to collaborate with us further, if we so desired.”[15]

The collaboration between the two countries has since developed into a joint venture, officially announced in June 1989 at the Paris Air Show. The parties are Brazil’s Avibras Aerospace Corporation and China’s Great Wall Industry Corporation. The new company, named International Satellite Communication Ltd. or INSCOM, will try to market space launch services and supply satellite tracking equipment to third world consumers.

By giving Brazil Chinese rocket expertise, the joint venture should speed the development of Brazil’s largest space rocket, the VLS. Brazil has turned every space rocket it has developed into a missile, so it is likely that the VLS too will become a missile. On a missile trajectory, the VLS would deliver a nuclear-sized warhead over 2000 miles.

In May of 1981, at the same time that U.S. officials were trying to block the Chinese shipments to Argentina, they were also trying to prevent Chinese low-enriched uranium from being sold to South Africa. Again, Alfred Hempel was brokering the sales.

In a message to West German officials, the State Department explained that it was trying to get South Africa to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and accept IAEA safeguards on all its nuclear activities:

    Our principal leverage in this regard is the South Africans’ need for low-enriched uranium….Supply of uranium from any other country…would seriously undercut the chances that the South Africans will agree to these conditions.[16]

By August 13, the State Department had learned more details. Hempel planned two large uranium shipments–one of 30 tons enriched to 2.7% and a second of 30 tons enriched to 3.0%–enough for two thirds of the first fuel load of Pretoria’s Koeberg reactors. German documents revealed that the State Department “saw no possibility…of blocking the shipment” and was “very unsatisfied with this situation, not the least because it weakens the American potential to influence South African policies.”[17]

The Chinese uranium gave South Africa two options. As in Argentina, it could triple the output of weapon-grade uranium made in an enrichment process. South Africa had started a small, unsafeguarded enrichment plant in the late 1970s that could make about three bombs’ worth of high-enriched uranium per year. The Chinese uranium could boost production to about nine bombs’ worth per year. Alternatively, South Africa could use the Chinese uranium to help fuel its two new power reactors. This would undercut U.S. pressure on South Africa to join the Non Proliferation Treaty, which western governments were supporting with a moratorium on sales of low-enriched uranium to South Africa. It is unclear which option, or combination of these options, South Africa chose. It still has the uranium and it still has not joined the Treaty.

Nuclear aid to Algeria

In April 1991, US intelligence revealed that China was secretly building a nuclear reactor in Algeria, a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The information came from leaked CIA reports. Algeria acknowledged the Chinese aid but said that it would place the 15 megawatt reactor under international inspection. Algeria’s ambassador to the United States said that the reactor, which Algeria secretly purchased in 1983, would run on low-enriched uranium, and that it was expected to be completed within several years. Chinese officials were cited as saying that the reactor would also use heavy water.

According to a nuclear trade press report, some CIA data suggests that 15 megawatt is a correct estimate of the reactor’s power level. However, according to the same account, other U.S. experts estimate from the size of the reactor’s cooling towers that the plant might have a power as high as 60 megawatts. Reports also conflicted as to the reactor’s location: most accounts said that it was on the Mediterranean coast, but according to Algeria’s ambassador to the United States, the plant was at Oussera, about 165 miles south of Algiers in the foothills of the Atlas mountains.

According to the leaked CIA information, the reactor was near a Soviet-supplied antiaircraft battery, supporting the charge that the facility was for military use. Algerian Ambassador Bensid said that the facility was protected by “normal, not extraordinary” measures, which he would not describe.[18]

The reactor will move Algeria a long way toward nuclear weapon capability. At an annual power level of 15 megawatts, the reactor could produce about 4.5 kilograms of plutonium per year (assuming a production rate of one gram of plutonium per megawatt day, the rule of thumb for research reactors of this size). It took only 6.1 kilograms of plutonium to fuel the crude U.S. bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, so the Algerian reactor would be able to fuel about two crude bombs every three years. Reactor experts say that with upgrading, the Algerian reactor could make up to two bombs per year.

The nominal power level of a reactor is only an estimate of its actual capacity. By changing the fuel or adding heat exchangers, reactor power can readily be increased. The Israeli reactor at Dimona–which is also sited in a desert and powered by heavy water and possibly low-enriched uranium–was scaled up from a nominal level of 26 megawatts to over 100 megawatts, allowing it to produce 40 kilograms of plutonium per year.

There are no electric power lines near the Algerian reactor. It is too small to be an economical source of electricity, and it is too large to be necessary for research. Algeria already has a one-megawatt research reactor, imported from Argentina, which is adequate for research and isotope production. The Algerian reactor seems to have no purpose other than to make nuclear weapon material.

China did not require Algeria to put the reactor under international safeguards. Algeria has said that the reactor will be inspected eventually, but has signed nothing. Even if the reactor is inspected, the only barrier to putting the plutonium in nuclear weapons will be Algeria’s promise to allow inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

However, a pledge is difficult to enforce in times of tension. When the Gulf War began, Iraq had enough fuel for one atomic bomb. Since then, the International Atomic Energy Agency has not been able to inspect the fuel or discover where all of it is located. Thus, placing the Algerian reactor under inspection does not remove the risk that it could be used to make nuclear weapons material.

The best way to avoid military use of a research reactor is to make it small enough so that its plutonium production is negligible. This means that the Algerian reactor should be scaled down to about two megawatts, which is enough to do research but not enough to make nuclear weapons.

Nuclear aid to Iraq and Iran

In addition to Algeria, there are reports that China is supplying both Iraq and Iran with nuclear technology. In December 1989, it was reported that China was helping Iraq make sophisticated magnets used to stabilize gas centrifuges, which China was known to have previously supplied to Pakistan’s uranium enrichment plant. In 1990 it was reported that China agreed to sell Iraq seven tons of lithium hydride, useful in the manufacturing of nerve gas, missile fuel or nuclear weapons. It is not clear whether the chemicals were shipped.

In early 1990, China and Iran signed a ten-year agreement for scientific cooperation and transfer of military technology. U.S. and European officials are said to believe that China and Iran made a secret nuclear cooperation agreement sometime after 1985.[19] Since 1988 China may also have trained several Iranian nuclear technicians in China and possibly provided technology for reactor construction in Iran. According to one British press report, Iran signed a contract in the summer of 1990 to purchase a research reactor from China.[20] The revolutionary government in Iran was said to have been seeking to buy a 30 megawatt research reactor since 1979.[21]

Missiles to Saudi Arabia

China has also sold missiles to the Middle East. In March 1988, U.S. officials were surprised to learn that China had sold an undisclosed number of intermediate-range missiles (probably about 50) to Saudi Arabia.[22] For over two years, the Chinese and Saudis had kept the deal so secret that the United States did not discover it until it was too late to stop it.

Saudi officials first approached the Chinese in 1985 after the United States, Saudi Arabia’s leading weapons supplier, refused to sell the Saudis F-15 fighter aircraft and short-range Lance missiles. Unlike other suppliers, China proved ready to sell longer-range missiles, and soon was secretly training Saudi technicians in China. The missiles were shipped in early 1988. This was the first time that any country had sold intermediate-range (1,000 to 5,500 mile) missiles to a Middle Eastern nation. It was also the first time that China had ever sold a strategic missile to another country.

The missile, known as the CSS-2, is used in the Chinese arsenal to deliver nuclear warheads over 1,500 miles, giving Saudi Arabia the longest range missile in the Middle East. But the missile’s poor accuracy (its CEP is 1-1.5 miles) makes the CSS-2 ineffective as a conventional weapon. Only the large blast radius of a nuclear explosion could compensate for the inaccuracy of the missile.

The Chinese military reportedly favored the Saudi sale on the ground that it extended China’s global influence. They argued that the sale successfully countered Taiwan’s influence in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, in the summer of 1990 Riyadh broke official ties with Taiwan and established full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

Missile sales to other countries

There have been several reports that China plans to sell more missiles to the Middle East. In July 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported that China had agreed to sell its M-9 surface-to-surface, solid-fuel missile to Syria.[23] The M-9 can carry a nuclear-sized payload about 370 miles.

The United States has been trying to stop the sale. In December 1989, senior U.S. officials visited China on a mission aimed in part at halting the M-9. The officials left believing that they had attained their goal. Shortly after the visit, a Chinese spokesman declared that “China has always held a serious attitude toward the problem of selling medium-range missiles.”[24] But even this vague statement may not apply: China may consider the M-9 a short-range missile.

China has also been discussing the possibility of selling its missiles to Iran. Reports say that Iran wants to buy or jointly produce Chinese M-9 and M-11 surface-to-surface missiles. Iran would also like to purchase the CSS-2 intermediate-range missile, which China sold to Saudi Arabia. China has already helped Iran develop short-range missiles, which Tehran used extensively against Iraq in the “war of the cities.” In addition, China sold Iran Silkworm anti-ship missiles in 1986 and 1987, which threatened Gulf oil tankers and the American ships escorting them.

Although neither Syria nor Iran has yet received the M-9, Syria was able this past March to start taking delivery of North Korean SCUD missiles produced with Chinese help. This recent sale of SCUDS, at a time when all other supplier countries have curbed their missile sales, leaves China and North Korea as the last suppliers of ballistic missiles in the world.

China has not joined any of the international efforts to halt nuclear or missile proliferation. China rejects the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the two multilateral efforts to limit dangerous nuclear exports. In March, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group discussed the possibility of bringing in additional members, China was considered the greatest challenge. One European official commented that “there is little optimism that China’s exports can be reined in and Beijing persuaded to join NSG.”[25] Pentagon officials reportedly fear that in the future, China may decide to supply nuclear technology and materials indiscriminately, without regard to proliferation risks.

China has also refused to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a group of 16 nations pledged to halt the spread of long-range missiles to developing countries. Instead of binding itself formally to any multilateral effort, China has only made periodic statements of its intentions. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), in a speech on April 16, 1991, said that after one meeting this year with the Chinese political leadership, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon declared that “the Chinese have indicated that they will honor the parameters” of the Missile Technology Control Regime.[26] But on the same day, according to Biden, China’s Foreign Minister announced that “those countries that did not attend the [MTCR] meeting should not be called upon to assume corresponding obligations to an agreement reached among some other countries.”[27]

According to a study by China specialists John W. Lewis, Hua Di and Xue Litai, U.S. efforts to influence China’s export behavior have failed primarily because American diplomats have been talking to the wrong people:

    In most cases Chinese foreign ministry officials can speak with authority only for the ministry…and not for China as a whole…. The locus of decisionmaking on arms sales resides in specialized corporations that exercise nearly autonomous authority because of their insulation within the system and their personal connections.[28]

The Chinese military controls the exporting corporations, which negotiate secretly with foreign buyers and report directly to the highest echelons, avoiding interference from foreign ministry officials. The military also sees foreign exchange as the key to modernizing its armed forces and resists joining arms control regimes that would cut lucrative sales.

There is also the matter of personal influence and corruption. It has been reported that the managers of the exporting firms are often the children of, or otherwise related to, party leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. According to one report, the managers keep a share of the profits for deposit in foreign bank accounts and have made nuclear smuggling a “quasi-official Chinese policy.”[29]

The best hope for influencing China’s export behavior is to cause its leaders to crack down on the military exporters. One way to do this is to affect what China can sell to the United States. By June 3rd, President Bush must decide whether to renew China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status, a benefit worth billions to Chinese exporters who enjoy the lowest possible tariff on their exports to the United States. China’s trade surplus with the United States rose to $10.4 billion in 1990 from $3.5 billion in 1988, creating the largest U.S. deficit with any country except Japan and Taiwan. In 1991, the surplus is expected to top $15 billion. This forecast depends on China’s continued status as a most favored nation. Revoking the status could increase American tariffs on Chinese goods as much as tenfold. If that is done, China will have to decide whether the billions it makes from U.S. trade are more important than its nuclear and missile sales.

The United States should not renew most favored nation trade status until China makes some real commitments. China must join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which would commit China to reasonable nuclear export behavior. To show good faith, China should scale down the Algerian research reactor to two megawatts, enough for research but too small for bomb-making. This is the only real protection against misuse of the reactor.

China must also join the Missile Technology Control Regime, which would curb its missile exports. Again to show good faith, China should publicly renounce its M-11 missile sale to Pakistan and M-9 missile sale to Syria. Indeed, if these sales got through, China could face sanctions under the U.S. Missile Technology Control Act. The President could bar the exporter from receiving U.S. technology or exporting to the United States.

If China does not take these actions, it should lose access to U.S. high technology. Recently, the President took the first step by blocking the export of U.S. parts for a Chinese satellite. The state-owned buyer in China was suspected of selling missiles to Pakistan. As this instance shows, China’s high-tech importers are often the same companies that make the dangerous missiles sales. As a second step, the President should hold up the sale of a high-powered computer that he approved for China in December 1990. This computer should remain in the United States until the Chinese export questions are sorted out. As a last resort, the U.S. Commerce Department could add China to the “Z list,” a category of countries such as North Korea and Cuba where U.S. high technology is barred.

With the Cold War over, the United States no longer needs China to counter the Soviet Union. The main threat to world security, as the Gulf War showed, now comes from the spread of weapons of mass destruction. If Chinese exporters continue to fuel this threat, Washington must take decisive steps to protect U.S. national security. Trade sanctions are an essential beginning.

January 11, 1984: China does not “engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries to develop nuclear weapons.” –Toast by Premier Zhao Ziyang at a White house state dinner.

June 20, 1984: “We by no means favor nuclear proliferation, nor do we engage in such proliferation by helping other countries to develop nuclear weapons.” –Statement by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

September 24, 1984: China “will take a discreet and responsible attitude so as to assure that cooperation is solely for peaceful purposes,” and “will, in exporting its nuclear materials and equipment, request the recipient countries to accept safeguards in line with the principles established in the agency’s statutes.” –Jiang Xinxiong, minister of the Chinese Ministry of Nuclear Industry, in China’s inaugural address to the International Atomic Energy Agency general conference.

January 18, 1985: “I wish to reiterate that China has no intention, either at present or in the future, to help nonnuclear countries develop nuclear weapons …. We will maintain good relations of cooperation with the [IAEA] and abide by its stipulations …. China’s nuclear cooperation with other countries, either at present or in the future, is confined to peaceful purposes alone.” –Vice Premier Li Peng, in an interview with the official Chinese news agency.

October 24, 1985: “China does not advocate nor practice nuclear proliferation, nor does it help other countries develop nuclear weapons …. cooperation in the field of nuclear energy with other countries, such as France, Federal Germany, the United States, Brazil, Pakistan and Japan, whether ongoing or under discussion, serves and will serve only peaceful purposes instead of any nonpeaceful purposes.” –Statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

December 12, 1989: “Except for Saudi Arabia, where a small number of mid-range missiles were sold, China has never sold, nor is planning to sell, missiles to any Middle East country.” –Statement by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Importing Country, Date, Technology:

Currently supplying, under secret agreement, a nuclear reactor large enough to make plutonium for nuclear weapons

Sold 9-10 metric tons of heavy water through Alfred Hempel, a West German broker, to run reactors capable of making plutonium for nuclear weapons

Sold uranium concentrate (possibly 45 tons) and low-enriched uranium hexafluoride

Sold over 50 metric tons of heavy water

Sold 4-6 tons of heavy water, said by Argentina to be insufficiently pure to use

Sold about 12 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium as fuel for research reactors

Sold uranium enriched to three, seven, and twenty percent, in three shipments totaling 200 kg

Sold 130-150 tons of heavy water through Alfred Hempel

after 1985
Made a secret nuclear cooperation agreement, trained several Iranian nuclear technicians in China, and may have supplied technology for reactor construction

May have contracted to sell a research reactor

Helped Iraq manufacture special magnets for stabilizing ultra-high speed centrifuges for enriching uranium

Agreed, in violation of U.N. trade embargo, to sell seven tons of lithium hydride which can be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons

North Korea
late 1950s-early 1960s
Trained North Korean scientists in nuclear technology

Supplied a reliable, tested bomb design enabling Pakistan to make a warhead weighing less than 400 pounds

early 1980s
Supplied highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapon fuel, reportedly enough for two atomic bombs

Aided Pakistan’s efforts to enrich uranium at the Kahuta plant

Sold tritium gas capable of boosting the yield of fission bombs

Provided special magnets for centrifuges at Pakistan’s Kahuta enrichment plant, which produces nuclear weapon fuel

May have scheduled a nuclear test for Pakistan at the Lop Nor testing ground

Agreed to supply a 300MWt nuclear power station despite the de facto international nuclear supply embargo against Pakistan

South Africa
Sold 30 tons of 2.7% and 30 tons of 3% enriched uranium through Alfred Hempel

Importing Country, Date, Technology:

Agreed to provide liquid-fuel and guidance technology for Brazilian rockets and missiles in exchange for Brazilian expertise in solid-fuel technology (agreement implemented by site visits)

Formed a joint venture with Brazil to market space rocket launch services to third world countries

Sold production capability for the Oghab, a short range rocket that can carry a 650 pound warhead 25 miles

Sold Silkworm anti-ship missiles which can carry a 1130 pound payload 55 miles

Discussed joint production of Chinese M-11 and M-9 missiles believed to have ranges of 185 and 370 miles respectively

Sold 30 Silkworm anti-ship missiles

North Korea
1970s-early 1980s
Helped reverse-engineer and upgrade SCUD missiles later sold to Iran and Syria; provided technology for rocket engine design and production, metallurgy and airframes

Helped develop Pakistan’s Haft I and II missiles capable of carrying a nuclear-sized payload to 50 and 185 miles respectively

Agreed to sell an undisclosed number of M-11 nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missiles, for which launch vehicles have already been delivered

Saudi Arabia
Sold approximately 50 CSS-2 nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 1,550 miles

Agreed to sell an unspecified number of M-9 nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 370 miles


[1] Hedrick Smith, “A Bomb Ticks in Pakistan,” New York Times Magazine, March 6, 1989, p. 77.

[2] United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement, July 19, 1985, pp. I-4, I-5.

[3] Michael Knapik and Shota Ushio, “White House Finds Questions But ‘No Smoking Gun’ On China Agreement,” Nucleonics Week, June 28, 1984, p. 4.

[4] United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement, July 19, 1985.

[5] Bernard E. Trainer, “Pakistan Accused of a Nuclear Move,” New York Times, May 24, 1988, p. A1. See also N.K. Malik, “Newly Developed Pakistan Missiles May Sour Indian Ties,” Times of India (Bombay), February 15, 1989, p. 10; Mushahid Hussain, “First Sight of Pakistan’s ‘Lance,'” Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 11, 1989, pp. 380-381.

[6] John J. Fialka, “Pakistan Seeks Chinese Missile, U.S. Believes,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 1991, p. A16.

[7] See Gary Milhollin, “Dateline New Delhi: India’s Nuclear Cover-Up,” Foreign Policy, Fall 1986, p. 161.

[8] Federal Republic of Germany, Customs Audit Office for the Upper Finance District of Dusseldorf, Report AB No. 555/88–Bp Z602, January 25, 1989.

[9] Note from the United States Government to the Federal Republic of Germany, May 18, 1981.

[10] Id.

[11] “Reported Peoples Republic of China Sales of Nuclear Material to South Africa and Argentina,” Note from the United States Government to the Federal Republic of Germany, May 29, 1981.

[12] Air Waybill No. 057-2313-2255, Air France, Paris-Buenos Aires, June 3, 1981; See also U.S. State Department, memos of May 18, May 22, and May 29, 1981 to the West German government detailing the materials and shipment plans. The shipment weighed 14.246 metric tons, consisting of 188 drums weighing 75kg each containing 50kg of heavy water. The diversion violated the Hempel group’s pledge to China to use the water only for peaceful purposes in Germany and Switzerland. Freight documents in the author’s possession show that Air France flew the water from China through Paris “in transit” to Buenos Aires.

[13] Foreign Ministry, Federal Republic of Germany, cable of August 26, 1981, from embassy in Peking to Bonn, stating that China’s first contract with Hempel was made in November 1980, for low-enriched uranium, which was delivered in May 1981, under a pledge of peaceful use and a pledge that it would be used in West Germany and Switzerland.

[14] Federal Republic of Germany, Foreign Office, “Re: Nuclear Exports of the PRC,” cable of July 22, 1981, to Bonn from Paris embassy.

[15] “CTA Director Discusses Space Accord With PRC,” Tecnologia & Defesa, (Sao Paulo) November 22, 1985, pp. 21-24.

[16] Note from the United States Government to the Federal Republic of Germany, May 18, 1981.

[17] Federal Republic of Germany, Foreign Office, cable no. 3273 of August 18, 1981, 19:56 hours, to Bonn from the embassy in Washington, D.C.

[18] R. Jeffrey Smith, “Algeria to Allow Eventual Inspection of Reactor, Envoy Says,” Washington Post, May 2, 1991, p. A36.

[19] Mark Hibbs, “Bonn Will Decline Teheran Bid to Resuscitate Bushehr Project,” Nucleonics Week, May 2, 1991, pp. 17-18.

[20] “China To Provide Atomic Reactor,” Keyhan (London), July 19, 1990, p. 4.

[21] Id.

[22] “USA in Bid to Stem Missile Proliferation,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, October 1988, p. 744. The Chinese designation for the CSS-2 as the Dong Feng 3 or DF-3. Some refer to it in its translation as the “East Wind” missile. See “An Ill Wind From China to Arabia,” New York Times, March 29, 1988, p. 26.

Most estimates say the Saudis got about 50 missiles. Nick Cook, “Ironies of Saudi’s IRBM Purchase,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, April 2, 1988, p. 627, (50 missiles); Jim Mann, “U.S. Caught Napping by Sino-Saudi Missile Deal,” Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1988, p. 1, (20-24 missiles); Bill Gertz, “State, Pentagon Worry About Saudi Missiles,” Washington Times, May 12, 1988, p. 3, (50 missiles); “Saudis Secretly Deploying Missiles,” Washington Times, September 20, 1988, p. 8, (50-60 missiles). See also, John H. Cushman Jr., “Spread of Ballistic Missiles Troubles U.S.,” New York Times, March 19, 1988, p. 3, reporting that China has produced less than 60 CSS-2s making it doubtful that the Saudis purchased more than 50; R. Jeffrey Smith, “Chinese Missile Launchers Sighted in Pakistan,” Washington Post, April 6, 1991, p. A17, (36 missiles).

[23] Jim Mann, “China-Syria Deal Concluded, Officials Say,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1988, p. 1.

[24] John W. Lewis, Hua Di, and Xue Litai, “Beijing’s Defense Establishment,” International Security, Spring 1991, p. 98.

[25] Mark Hibbs, “Cooling Towers Are Key to Claim Algeria Is Building Bomb Reactor,” Nucleonics Week, April 18, 1991, pp. 7-8.

[26] Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), “China” Rogue Elephant on Weapons Proliferation,” Statement before the United States Senate, April 16, 1991.

[27] Id.

[28] John W. Lewis, Hua Di, and Xue Litai, “Beijing’s Defense Establishment,” International Security, Spring 1991, p. 98.

[29] Mark Hibbs, “Cooling Towers Are Key to Claim Algeria Is Building Bomb Reactor,” Nucleonics Week, April 18, 1991, pp. 7-8.