China Warns U.S. on East Asian Missile Defense Cooperation

Howard Diamond

AMID GROWING concern in Washington about missile proliferation in Asia and Chinese espionage in the United States, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright left on February 28 for two days of meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing. Although her mission is primarily economic in nature, Albright is expected to try to reassure Beijing about the administration's missile defense plans and to press China to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Senior Chinese officials, alarmed by the administration's interest in deploying theater missile defenses (TMD) in East Asia, have begun warning of profound strains in U.S.-Chinese relations if U.S. missile defense plans include Taiwan or undermine Beijing's own strategic deterrent. In an interview in the February 1 Defense News, Ambassador Sha Zukang, director-general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that China was not concerned about "what we call genuine TMD." Rather, explained Sha, "What China is opposed to is the development, deployment and proliferation of antimissile systems with potential strategic defense capabilities in the name of TMD that violate the letter and spirit of [the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] and go beyond the legitimate self-defense needs of relevant countries."

Since North Korea's launch of its three-stage Taepo Dong-1 missile in August 1998, Washington has talked with officials from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan about development of an East Asian missile defense capability. Sha warned that inclusion of Taiwan in a U.S. TMD system would constitute "a serious infringement of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and would lead to "severe consequences."

Further, on February 25 the Financial Times quoted an unnamed senior Chinese official who protested that creation of a U.S.-East Asian missile defense would be inconsistent with the MTCR and would thus entitle Beijing "not to follow the rules of this regime and undertake cooperation on missiles and missile technology with third countries." In a January 12 speech in Washington, Sha argued that "many of the technologies used in anti-missile systems are easily applicable in offensive missiles" and termed potential U.S. cooperation with Japan or Taiwan on TMD a form of missile proliferation.

During President Clinton's June 1998 trip to China, Beijing had said it would actively study joining the MTCR, which seeks to restrict the transfer of ballistic missiles and missile technology for systems capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more. Since 1994 China has partly adhered to MTCR requirements by refraining from selling so-called Category I items—whole missiles or their major subsystems. According to a February CIA assessment, however, Beijing continued to trade in missile components and technology (Category II items) in the first half of 1998.

Sino-U.S. relations have chilled since Clinton's trip, with two recently issued reports highlighting the concerns of critics of the administration's engagement policy. On February 25, the Defense Department presented Congress with a report claiming that China has built up its M-9 and M-11 short-range missiles opposite Taiwan for the past five to six years and may deploy as many as 650 missiles by 2005. China currently has deployed about 150 missiles, up from about 60 in the early 1990s.

The second report, an unclassified version of which was released by the administration on February 2, came from a special House panel created in June 1998 to determine whether launching U.S. satellites on Chinese rockets had provided China with unauthorized information that could aid the development of its strategic nuclear arsenal. Led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), the bipartisan panel unanimously concluded that space-related trade with Beijing, as well as Chinese espionage directed at U.S. nuclear laboratories, had harmed U.S. security over the past two decades. The panel called for a tightening of U.S. export controls and increased efforts to prevent Chinese espionage.

The administration disputed the panel's recommendation on export controls. On February 23, however, the administration rejected a proposed $450 million communications satellite deal between Hughes Electronics Corporation and a Chinese consortium with strong ties to the Chinese military. According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the United States had never previously blocked the sale of a commercial satellite.