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Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
U.S.-China Arms Talks Resume

J. Peter Scoblic

After a 19-month hiatus, the United States and China resumed arms control talks in July, but high-level visits to Beijing failed to resolve Washington's concerns about China's transfer of missile technology to Pakistan. Those concerns were fueled during the summer by new reported U.S. intelligence in late June and by the August release of a biannual CIA report on proliferation. The new information also bolstered support for legislation that would punish Beijing and Chinese firms found to be violating proliferation norms.

In late June and early July, The New York Times and the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that, according to U.S. intelligence sources, China has increased its assistance to Pakistan's missile program and may be helping Pakistan construct a second factory to build M-11 missiles. The M-11 is a nuclear-capable missile with a reported range of 300 kilometers, meaning that it falls within the purview of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). U.S. officials would not comment on the reports, but they noted that China's missile cooperation with Pakistan has been a matter of concern for years.

The United States first imposed sanctions on Pakistani and Chinese entities in 1991 under provisions of the 1990 Defense Authorization Act governing the transfer of missile technology. However, the sanctions were waived the next year after Beijing agreed to abide by the terms of the MTCR, though it did not formally join the regime. In 1993, the United States again imposed sanctions against China and Pakistan for the transfer of M-11 related equipment and technology. Once again, the sanctions were lifted the next year after China promised to adhere to MTCR guidelines.

John Holum, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, discussed U.S. concerns about China's continued transfer of missile technology to Pakistan during a trip to Beijing in early July. The visit marked the first round of formal U.S.-Chinese arms control talks since November 1998. Beijing stopped all discussions with Washington following the May 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the U.S.-led airwar against Yugoslavia.

In a July 8 press briefing, Holum said that while he did address Chinese-Pakistani missile cooperation during his meetings with Chinese officials, the issue "remains unresolved." During the briefing, however, Holum stressed that China has dramatically improved its commitment to non-proliferation in recent years and said that there are "many more areas of agreement than disagreement" between the two countries.

Holum's trip was followed by a visit by Defense Secretary William Cohen, who arrived in Beijing on July 12 for talks on re-establishing military-to-military contacts. In a press conference after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, General Chi Haotian, Cohen said that China had denied transferring missile technology to Pakistan or any other country but that "the matter is still under discussion."

Chinese officials insist that Beijing has not continued to aid Lahore's M-11 program. According to a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Washington, "There is not a missile cooperation program between China and Pakistan." The spokesman went on to say that Beijing is "seriously considering" joining the MTCR. However, an unclassified CIA report presented biannual to Congress and released August 8 noted that "Chinese entities provided increased assistance to Pakistan's ballistic missile program during the second half of 1999."


Thompson Bill

The media coverage and the CIA report were used by Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) as further justification for a bill he introduced May 25 termed the China Nonproliferation Act (S. 2645). As originally written, the law would require the president to submit an annual report to Congress on any Chinese entities engaged in exporting items that could be used in weapons of mass destruction, ballistic and cruise missiles, or advanced conventional weapons. The act mandates sanctions against those entities and the Chinese government.

Although the bill has bipartisan support, it was not brought to a vote this summer, partly because of resistance from the White House. The administration objected to the non-proliferation bill's exclusive focus on China and the fact that it would limit the ways in which the president could respond to evidence of proliferation. Disagreement over the bill held up legislation establishing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China—a high priority for the Clinton administration.

Following meetings with congressional leaders and administration representatives, Thompson announced July 25 that he had revised the bill. Specifically, he said that the scope of the bill had been enlarged to include not just China but all proliferating countries, as identified by the CIA, and that the modified legislation gave the president more leeway in imposing sanctions.

The revised legislation has not yet been formally submitted, and the Senate recessed for August without taking any action. According to a Thompson staffer, it is not likely that the legislation will be brought to a floor as a stand-alone bill. Thompson may therefore choose to attach the China Nonproliferation Act to the PNTR legislation in order to ensure action this fall, the staffer said.