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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Missile Regime Puts Off China
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Wade Boese

More than 30 countries dedicated to limiting the spread of ballistic missiles decided in October against letting China join their group because of Beijing’s alleged failure to meet their nonproliferation standards. They also expanded the list of items that governments should be more cautious about exporting.

After gathering Oct. 6-8 in Seoul for an annual decision-making meeting, the 34 members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) made no mention of China’s membership bid, but a U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Oct. 15 that the absence of such a statement was evidence of Beijing falling short. Members could not reach the necessary consensus to offer China membership because of concerns about Beijing living up to the regime’s export control and behavior standards, according to the official, who added, “They’re not there yet.”

In the weeks preceding the MTCR meeting, the United States imposed proliferation sanctions on eight Chinese companies. One of those, Xinshidai, was specifically accused of missile proliferation. The others, two of which the Bush administration previously penalized for missile proliferation, were punished for unspecified deals with Iran, which Washington charges is covertly seeking nuclear weapons and developing ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Beijing vehemently objected to the U.S. accusations and sanctions. “We are firm and rigorous in our attitude, position, and laws and regulations on opposing the proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction] and their delivery vehicles,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan stated Sept. 23. Deeming U.S. sanctions as “wrong practices,” Kong also warned that they “will not help expand China-U.S. cooperation on nonproliferation.”

Although it failed for now to win MTCR membership, China has made some headway this year in its campaign to gain acceptance as a responsible exporter. Beijing successfully acceded in May to the now-44 member Nuclear Suppliers Group, whose members restrict their nuclear trade. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Ten other countries, including Romania, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia, also saw their MTCR membership hopes at least temporarily dashed.

Meanwhile, MTCR members agreed to exercise greater controls on what they export. Topping the list of new products to be regulated are precision ball bearings, which are critical in building liquid-propellant missile engines.

MTCR members also vowed to focus on stopping proliferators from using intermediaries and front companies to get what they want. The U.S. official said this is a challenge that members are still “coming to grips with.”