U.S. Relations with China

Congressional Digest
August-September 1995, pp. 218, 220-1

China should lose trade privileges with the United States unless Beijing stops sabotaging Western efforts to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction. China is now the leading supplier of nuclear, chemical, and missile-related technology to developing countries.

During the 1980s and 1990s, China supplied billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear and missile technology to South Asia and the Middle East. It did so in the teeth of U.S. protests, and despite repeated promises to stop. The exports are still going on today. And while they do, they make it virtually impossible for the United States and the West to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction-a trend that endangers everyone.

Over the last three years, the United States has sniffed out a series of secret shipments of Chinese poison gas ingredients to Iran, but has declined to impose sanctions on Beijing. In addition, China’s missile exports to Pakistan have continued.

China has evidently made a cynical calculation. It appears to think that the Clinton Administration is so committed to American high-tech jobs that it will never jeopardize high-tech exports, even to slow the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1993, President Clinton decided not to link U.S trade restrictions to China’s export policies. This removed the main barrier to Beijing’s missile exports to Pakistan and Syria and its nuclear help to Pakistan and Iran. Last year, Clinton refused to punish China for human rights abuses, removing a crucial barrier to prison labor.

Only when China started pirating intellectual properties such as software and blockbuster movies did the President take a stand. The U.S. Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor, threatened to impose 100 percent tariffs on more than a billion dollars’ worth of Chinese imports, and Beijing backed down. Clinton’s victory on intellectual property shows that if China is forced to choose between chemical proliferation and U.S. trade, it will choose trade. But putting a higher priority on Hollywood videos than on sales of Chinese poison gas and missiles has a price. In March 1993, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry warned that Iran was installing chemical weapon batteries near the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a sea lane that the U.S. Navy must defend.

Ignoring egregious nuclear exports also has a price. Today, South Asia is the most likely place on earth for a nuclear war, and China shares much of the blame. China’s shocking contribution to Pakistan’s nuclear effort was uncovered by U.S. intelligence in the early 1980s: China had supplied Pakistan the complete design of a tested nuclear weapon. U.S. officials also say China gave Pakistan weapon-grade uranium for bomb fuel. If, as reported, the design was the same as China’s fourth test device, it could yield the equivalent of 20 to 25 thousand tons of TNT, twice the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Despite all this, U.S. officials initiated a nuclear trade agreement with China barely a year later, based on a White House toast in which Premier Zhao Ziyang declared that China does not “engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries develop nuclear weapons.” Washington has never ratified the agreement because China did not live up to its promises. By 1986, Chinese scientists were seen at Pakistan’s secret Kahuta complex, where Pakistan was producing its own weapon-strength uranium with gas centrifuges. According to West German officials, China sold Pakistan tritium, used to boost the yield of atomic bombs.

In 1991, Chinese companies were caught secretly selling Pakistan the M-ll missile. The M-11 can carry a nuclear warhead about 300 kilometers-the range set by the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement among missile supplier nations controlling missile sales to countries like Pakistan. The U.S. President sanctioned the China Great Wall Industries Group and the China Precision Machinery Import Export Corporation for selling to Pakistan. The companies’ sales to the United States were banned for two years, and they were denied U.S. munitions exports, including missile technology. But sanctions were waived less than a year later, because China had promised once again to halt its missile sales.

China was caught again supplying components for the M-11 missile to Pakistan in 1993. This time the U.S. President imposed sanctions against ten Chinese firms as well as Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense. The sanctions against Pakistan remain in force, but those against China were waived in October 1994, once China promised again to control its missile exports.

Over the years, Washington has watched China make several missile and nuclear deals in the Middle East. China helped Iran develop short-range missiles used against Iraq, and sold Iran Silkworm anti-ship missiles in 1986 and 1987 to threaten U.S. shipping in the Gulf. And unless Secretary of State Warren Christopher does something more than complain belatedly about China’s nuclear reactor deal with Iran (first announced in September 1992), U.S. forces in the Gulf could soon be faced with the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

China in 1988 caught U.S. officials off guard by shipping Chinese CSS-2 missiles to Saudi Arabia. It was the first time any country had sold nuclear-capable, intermediate-range missiles to a Mideast nation, giving Saudi Arabia the longest-range missile in the region. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman later tried to play down the sale by saying, “Except for Saudi Arabia, where a small number of midrange missiles were sold, China has never sold, nor is planning to sell, missiles to any Middle East country.”

But in 1989, China reportedly agreed to sell Syria the 600-kilometer-range M-9 missile. In 1992. U.S. officials said China had delivered the ingredients for making solid missile fuel to Syria and planned to send more. To avoid getting caught selling entire missiles, as in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, China now appears to be selling Syria missile components and the means to make missiles.

U.S. intelligence revealed in 1991 that China was secretly building a nuclear reactor at a remote location in Algeria. The reactor is too small to be plausible for electricity, and too large to be necessary for research. At its announced power of 15 megawatts, the heavy water reactor could make enough plutonium for one atomic bomb every few years. Algeria purchased the reactor in 1983, but only after the deal became public in 1991 did China and Algeria put the reactor under international inspection.

China is now building reactors in Pakistan and plans to build reactors in Iran, even though the CIA says Iran is running a secret bomb program. Syria too wants Chinese reactors.

American attempts to stop China’s dangerous exports have consistently failed. The American policy has been to complain, and then to do very little when its complaints are ignored. There is a saying that “you don’t change a winning game.” But you do change a losing game, and a losing game is what we have with China.

How should it change? Washington must convince China that it has more to lose from these sales than it has to gain. The best way to convince Beijing is to put its trade surplus with the United States at risk. China’s surplus is now close to $30 billion per year. Its nuclear and missile deals with the Third World are only a fraction of that. If forced to choose, China is likely to prefer its trade relation with the U.S. to selling the means to build weapons of mass destruction to developing countries.

Washington should bar the Chinese companies that make dangerous chemical, nuclear, and missile sales from trading with the United States.

The United States should relink China’s most-favored-nation trade status to Beijing’s non-proliferation credentials. MFN should be withdrawn unless China agrees to do the following:

Join the Missile Technology Control Regime as a full member and publicly renounce and halt its sales of M-11 and M-9 missiles to countries like Pakistan and Syria. China should also renounce and halt the sale of any components, materials, or manufacturing equipment useful for making missiles covered by the Regime.

Join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the consulting organization through which supplier countries structure their nuclear sales according to non-proliferation guidelines. This would help stem the flow of sensitive exports to countries like Iran and Pakistan. To show good faith, China should cancel its planned reactor sale to Iran.

Join the Australia Group of supplier countries that control over 50 poison gas ingredients to developing countries. China should start by shutting down the supplies of chemical precursors flowing through front companies to Iran.