Testimony: Chinese Exports of Nuclear and Missile Technology

Testimony of Gary Milhollin

Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

June 13, 1991

 I am pleased to be able to address the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the important subject of China. I am a member of the University of Wisconsin Law School Faculty and director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, D.C., a project devoted to slowing the spread of nuclear weapons to developing countries.

I would like to begin by submitting for the record a short article that a colleague and I published last month in the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post, together with a report on China’s nuclear and missile export record that the Wisconsin Project released last month. The report lists China’s publicly reported nuclear and missile exports. It also lists China’s pledges to stop these exports. Both the article and the report show that China has been essentially a renegade supplier of nuclear and missile technology for a decade, and that American attempts to stop China’s behavior have failed. Today I would like to review China’s export record for the Committee.

I would also like to comment on the Bush administration’s reaction to these exports. I would like to suggest that the United States now seems to be misjudging China in the same way that it misjudged Iraq in the days before Iraq invaded Kuwait. We seems to be closing our eyes to China’s exports just as we closed our ears to Saddam’s threats against his neighbors. We are hoping that if we don’t make a fuss, the dicatator will change his ways. I believe that instead, we should send China the kind of clear message that we did not send Iraq. China should be told that its arms exports are unacceptable, and if they don’t stop the United States will do something about it.

China’s Export Record

During the 1980s, China secretly supplied billions of dollars worth of nuclear and missile technology to South Asia, South Africa, South America and the Middle East. In each of these regions, Chinese exports went directly into secret nuclear and missile projects, some of which resulted in nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable missiles. The effect has been to intensify regional conflicts and undermine world security.

China’s most dramatic impact has been in South Asia. According to U.S. intelligence, in the early 1980s China gave Pakistan a complete, tested nuclear weapon design with twice the yield of the Hiroshima bomb, plus enough highly enriched uranium to fuel at least one and possibly more nuclear weapons. Thanks to this design, Pakistan has been able to assemble nuclear weapon parts one by one over time, and to develop a small nuclear arsenal without conducting a test, which would have jeopardized its U.S. aid. Pakistan now appears to have a reliable bomb that weighs only 400 pounds.

Despite U.S. protests, China is still helping Pakistan. This past April, U.S. intelligence spotted launchers for the Chinese M-11 missile in Pakistan. The M-11 can deliver a 1,100 pound nuclear warhead about 185 miles, which puts it at the limit set by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The Regime is an agreement among industrial nations not to export missiles that can carry nuclear-sized payloads more than 185 miles. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Clarke told the Joint Economic Committee on April 23rd that the Chinese had promised to “take into account relevant international parameters on missiles,” but China still rejects the MTCR, as the M-11 sale shows.

Even the most determined apologist for China cannot defend the missile sale to Pakistan. It undermines the MTCR, destabilizes South Asia, and shows that China does not really care what the rest of the world thinks.

China has also helped Pakistan’s rival, India. From 1982 to 1987, China secretly sold India at least 130 to 150 tons of “heavy water” without requiring international inspection. Heavy water is used to run reactors that make plutonium, a nuclear weapon fuel. With the Chinese shipments, India was able to start two and possibly three new reactors outside international inspection, giving India for the first time the ability to construct a nuclear arsenal. The three reactors together can make enough plutonium for forty atomic bombs per year. The fact that India is a rival of China indicates that money, not politics, drives Chinese export decisions.

China has also been active in South Africa and South America. In 1981, over U.S. protests, China secretly sold enriched uranium to both South Africa and Argentina. The South African sale directly undermined U.S. efforts to get South Africa to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Both South Africa and Argentia had clandestine uranium enrichment programs, and the Chinese uranium could have roughly tripled their potential production of bomb-grade uranium.

These exports were shipped by a West German nuclear broker named Alfred Hempel. Hempel had made false promises to deliver the shipments to Germany, and then routed them to Argentina through Paris. When French and American officials protested, a Chinese spokesman admitted that he knew the shipments were being diverted. He said that although the uranium was supposed to go Germany, “different countries have informed China that the fuel reached Argentina.” Nevertheless, the Chinese kept selling nuclear materials to Hempel until 1987, and Hempel kept diverting the shipments. A French cable commented that “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.”

China also supplied Argentia’s rival, Brazil. In 1984, China secretly sold Brazil 200 kilograms of enriched uranium, which went directly into Brazil’s nuclear weapon program–which, we have recently learned, was carried on in cooperation with Iraq.

Nor has China overlooked the Middle East, where it seems to have helped both Iraq and Iran at the same time. In 1989, China reportedly have helped Iraq make centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And in 1985, China reportedly agreed to train nuclear engineers from Iran’s nuclear research center at Isfahan. I am told that in the classified literature, there are numerous reports of Chinese aid to Iran in nuclear and missile development at Isfahan. Before the Committee makes up its mind about China’s export record, it should get a classified briefing on China’s relationship with Iran. According to Admiral Brooks, director of U.S. Naval Intelligence, Iran is among the countries “that have the intention of acquiring nuclear weapons and the financial resources to pay for them.”

But China’s missile sales to the Middle East are probably its most outrageous recent action. They include the transfer of CSS-2 missiles with a 1,500-mile range to Saudi Arabia, a deal that was concealed for two years from the U.S. government, and an agreement to sell M-9 missiles with a 370-mile range to Syria. With the M-9, Syria could hit targets accurately in Israel, Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt. Both the CSS-2 and the M-9 can deliver nuclear payloads. If President Bush is serious about stopping the spread of missles in the Middle East, he must stop the M-9.

America’s Feeble Response

The United States has complained about China’s exports for a decade. But so far, we have been all bark and no bite. Each time we complained, we settled for verbal promises that were immediately broken.

In January 1984, China’s premier pledged at the White House not to “help other countries to develop nuclear weapons.” But only months later China secretly sold tons of heavy water to India and helped Pakistan enrich uranium for atomic bombs. In October 1985, China’s vice premier declared that China “does not practice nuclear proliferation.” But in 1987, China secretly sold more heavy water to Alfred Hempel–water that it must have known would be diverted to India.

And only two months ago, the world discovered that China was building a secret nuclear reactor in Algeria. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which would have to inspect the reactor under international safeguards, did not know about it, and neither did anyone else. The reactor is in the desert, about 165 miles south of Algiers, in a military exclusion zone next to an anti-aircraft battery. There are no power lines. The reactor is not designed to produce electricity. It is supposed to be for research but its location is makes that argument absurd–for research it would be in Algiers. There is a research reactor twice its size on Long Island at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

After being discovered, Algeria promised to put the reactor under safeguards. But that is only a promise. Algeria is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), so it is not obliged by treaty to put the reactor under safeguards. China is not a party to the NPT either, so it is not obliged to make Algeria to put the reactor under safeguards. China did promise, when it joined the IAEA in 1984, to “request” that its nuclear buyers accept safeguards.

Algeria and China claim that the reactor’s capacity will be fifteen megawatts. If this is true the reactor will be able to make enough plutonium for about two bombs every three years. If Algeria increases the reactor’s power, it could make even more plutonium. In the 1970s, Israel secretly increased the power of its Dimona research reactor–also in a desert–from 26 to over 100 megawatts. Some experts estimate–from the size of the reactor’s cooling towers–that it might be designed for 40 to 60 megawatts, which would produce enough plutonium for up to two bombs per year. The fifteen-megawatt figure comes solely from Chinese and Algerian officials, and to my knowledge has not been verified by western analysts.

So despite what the administration says, the reactor moves Algeria a long way toward nuclear weapon capability.

There is also the question of money. According to industry estimates, the Algerian reactor will cost about $100 million. Algeria is a foreign aid recipient, and it has recently started a one-megawatt research reactor supplied by Argentina. Why would it spend its scarce funds on another research reactor? The answer must be that the reactor will provide more than research.

From Baghdad to Beijing

This brings me to the administration’s current position on China.

One year ago, before this committee, and before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly made the following argument against sanctions. He said: “you attempt to remain engaged…to bring moral pressure to bear… sanctions would not improve our ability to exercise a restraining influence….” Secretary Kelly was opposing sanctions against Iraq.

In a recent speech at Yale University, President Bush used the same argument to oppose sanctions against China. He said: “we can advance our cherished ideals only by…showing our best side…it is wrong to isolate China if we hope to influence it.”

A year ago, in response to reports that Iraq was building launchers for SCUDS within range of Israel, a White House spokesman said: “we are concerned about the destabilizing effects of the spread of ballistic missiles … especially in areas of tension.”

Last month, in response to reports that China was exporting missiles to the Middle East, Assistant secretary Richard Solomon was quoted as saying: “we did indicate that we were quite concerned about countries…sending in missiles to this very sensitive and unstable part of the world.”

A year ago, a senior administration official, describing Sadam, was quoted as saying: “he is more moderate than he was in the past and there is a good chance he will be more moderate in the future.”

Last month, President Bush, describing China, said: “…though there are major problems in China…things are an awful lot better than they were in 1975.”

I draw these parallels to show that we seem to be misjudging China in the same way that we misjudged Iraq. To deal with renegade regimes one has to be both clear and firm. China is motivated by money. Its leaders understand profits and losses. If they can make more money by selling nuclear and missile technology to developing countries than than they will lose from penalties imposed by the United States, they will maximize their profits like any good businessman.

We have to make the Chinese lose more in U.S. trade than they will gain by selling weapons of mass destruction.

There is also the question of U.S. credibility. We have now told the Chinese officially that we oppose what they are doing, and they have told us to get lost. They don’t want to hear about it. If simply swallow hard and do nothing, we will be telling the rest of the world that we don’t really care about proliferation.

I urge the Committee to send Beijing a signal that there will be no more business as usual in the mass destruction trade.
Congress should require that within six months of the renewal of MFN, China must take the following steps:

  • Scale down the Algerian reactor to two megawatts, which is enough power for research but not enough to make nuclear weapons
  • Join the Missile Technology Control Regime and publicly renounce its sales of M-11 missiles to Pakistan and M-9 missiles to Syria
  • Join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the consulting organization through which other countries structure their nuclear sales according to nonproliferation guidelines