No Deal Reached on Chinese Missile Proliferation

Alex Wagner

During a February 21-22 state visit to China, President George W. Bush failed to resolve concerns about Beijing’s implementation of a deal to curb Chinese missile proliferation, despite a recent report that agreement could be within reach.

The Bush administration contends that China has repeatedly violated a November 2000 agreement in which Beijing committed not to help states develop “in any way…ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons” and to enact a comprehensive missile and missile-technology export control system. (See ACT, December 2000.)

As recently as January, the CIA accused China of breaching its commitments under the deal, noting that during the first half of 2001, China provided Pakistan with “missile-related technical assistance” and that Chinese firms transferred “dual-use missile-related items, raw materials, and/or assistance” to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that the United States wants China to design and implement a national export control law that was required by the November 2000 agreement. Beijing has yet to do so and, according to a February 27 New York Times report, insists that the United States first meet a promise it made under the deal to resume processing applications for U.S. companies to launch their satellites on Chinese rockets, a process that has been suspended since February 2000. This would require Washington to waive sanctions that bar the United States from exporting satellites to China for launch. Beijing also wants Washington to lift sanctions levied on a Chinese firm in September 2001 for missile proliferation. (See ACT, September 2001.)

Rice also said that Washington wants China to cease implementing missile-related contracts signed prior to the November 2000 deal, but China appears unwilling to meet that demand. “The agreement is for the future, not the past,” according to an unnamed Chinese Foreign Ministry official quoted in a February 26 Associated Press report.

A New York Times report appearing the day of Bush’s first meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin cited a senior White House official as “hopeful” that Beijing would meet Washington’s demands in exchange for waiving the satellite-export sanctions. However, after a meeting between Bush and Jiang on February 21, Rice said, “There is no agreement, but…work is underway.” Three rounds of working-level talks have been held to date, most recently in late November. (See ACT, January/February 2002.)

Clark Randt, the U.S. ambassador to China, highlighted the importance Washington places on Chinese missile proliferation in a January 21 speech in Hong Kong to the Asia Society. “I should be crystal clear on this point, that nonproliferation is a make-or-break issue for us,” Randt said. He added that, given the events of September 11, the “stakes are much higher than ever before [and]…the type of activities that possibly had been going on can no longer be tolerated.”

Both sides are prepared to resume discussions when China’s chief arms control negotiator, Liu Jieyi, is in Washington March 4-5 to attend a conference of high-level U.S. and Chinese arms control officials and scholars.