Washington to Sanction China, Pakistan for Missile Cooperation

Alex Wagner

The Bush administration announced September 1 that it will levy sanctions on a Chinese company for shipping missile equipment to a Pakistani firm in violation of a pledge Beijing made last November.

China’s privately owned Metallurgical Equipment Corporation will be sanctioned for selling missile components covered by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to Pakistan’s state-owned National Development Complex, which will also be sanctioned. The MTCR is a voluntary regime of 33 states that restricts exports of missiles (and their components) capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. China is not a member of the MTCR but agreed last year to adhere to its guidelines. (See ACT, December 2000.)

Effective for two years, the sanctions, which are mandatory under U.S. law but can be waived by the president, will prohibit U.S. entities from transferring a variety of missile- and space-technology-related equipment to the two firms. However, they will have little effect against the Pakistani firm, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 1998.

Chinese missile transfers have long been a cause of concern to Washington, but in November 2000, the two countries reached an agreement under which China pledged that it would not help states develop “ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.” Although the Chinese statement did not mention the MTCR, the document defined nuclear-capable missiles as those that can deliver a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers, the same limits outlined in the MTCR.

In exchange for the pledge, the United States agreed to resume processing U.S. companies’ applications to use Chinese space-launch providers. According to an administration official, the application process had been suspended in February 2000 to pressure China to stem its missile exports.

But the United States has challenged Chinese adherence to the pledge, and Secretary of State Colin Powell raised the issue with Chinese leaders July 28 during a trip to Beijing. Days earlier, Powell had characterized Beijing’s recent record on missile export controls as “mixed.”

On August 23, the topic was taken up again at expert-level talks held between the United States and China, but the day after the August meeting, China’s foreign ministry spokesman maintained that “the relevant policies have been carried out to the letters,” signaling that the sides continued to differ on whether China had been continuing its missile exports.

Although an administration official denied that the late August talks and sanctions are linked, it appears likely that an agreement might have allowed the administration to waive the sanctions. At an August 6 press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had said that imposing sanctions on China “is certainly not our preferred course, although we would certainly follow U.S. law if it came to that.” He had added that the administration would like to see China abide by the November 2000 agreement and effectively implement new export controls.

Despite levying the sanctions, the United States plans to continue consulting with China on the issue. At an August 23 briefing after the experts’ meeting, State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said that the administration “will need to do additional work to clarify China’s willingness to implement fully the terms of the November 2000 missile agreement.” No additional talks specifically on this matter have yet been scheduled, but Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan will visit Washington in September and may take up the subject.

Recent allegations charging China with transferring missile components to Pakistan first surfaced July 27 in The Washington Post. Citing diplomatic sources, the newspaper said the Bush administration had lodged a “formal protest” with China for continued missile-related exports throughout 2001.

Citing “intelligence officials,” an August 6 Washington Times report then claimed China had supplied missile components for Pakistan’s 750-kilometer Shaheen-1 and 2,000-kilometer Shaheen-2 ballistic missiles. The paper said 12 transfers of missile technology had taken place between the two countries since the beginning of 2001.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson blasted The Washington Times August 9, saying that such “intelligence” was “fabricated out of thin air in an attempt to exert pressure on other countries.” The spokesperson also reiterated China’s commitment to implementing the November 2000 agreement with a “serious, earnest and responsible approach.”

Responding to the sanctions, the Pakistani foreign ministry released a statement on September 3 calling the move “regrettable and without any justification,” and Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Inam-ul Haque, said that there had been no transfer of missile technology from China to Pakistan “in recent years” during an August 17 speech in Washington.