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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

Christopher in China for arms control discussions


Following high-profile, up-beat visits by senior US officials - ACDA Director John Holum (see issue No. 9) and Under-Secretary of State Lynn Davis (see issue No. 10) - Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited China on 20 November for wide-ranging talks prominently featuring arms control and non-proliferation issues. Christopher met President Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

The US agenda was perhaps topped by China's nuclear-related exports policy - particularly with regard to Pakistan and Iran - while China appeared to concentrate on US arms sales to Taiwan. Both sides seemingly moved nearer to a breakthrough on peaceful nuclear cooperation. It subsequently became apparent that a US proposal for the two States to reach a nuclear detargetting accord had not been accepted, while a Chinese proposal for a nuclear no-first use accord had met a similar fate.

China's nuclear exports policy

Speaking on 20 November, Christopher claimed that China had undertaken to "formulate and adopt comprehensive nationwide regulations on nuclear export controls." In May 1996, China gave similar assurances. Despite numerous press reports to the contrary, the US remains adamant China has not contravened its own undertakings.

According to reports, China expressed willingness to seriously consider joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which imposes nuclear-related export controls and restrictions on its 30 Member States.

The US is most concerned about alleged Chinese support for the nuclear programmes of Iran and Pakistan. Of these, Iran seems to arouse the greatest disquiet: "I made clear our strong concern about [China's] nuclear cooperation with Iran," according to Christopher (20 November).

On 21 November, the Washington Times, citing a confidential US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report of 2 October, claimed that China had - though when was unspecified - sold Iran missile technology and 400 tonnes of nerve gas agents. Both the US and China denied the reports. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson (21 November): "This report is purely fictitious and made out of ulterior motives. It is not worth refuting." And according to State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies (21 November):

"We've not seen any reason to question their behaviour... As a result of our intensive dialogue with them we have received certain assurances... We believe at this stage that, in fact, the Chinese are operating within the assurances they have given us."

Chinese denials of any such sale were repeated by Defence Minister General Chi Haotian during a visit to the US on 9 December. Describing media coverage as "out of proportion," Chi stated simply: "our exports of equipment, arms and technology are placed under safeguard."

Editor's note: On 21 November, the Chair of the House National Security Committee, Floyd Spence (Republican - South Carolina), referring to recent reports by the General Accounting Office and Congressional Research Service, raised the issue of China's imports of military-related high technology. Spence stated:

"When you add it all up, it is clear that China's military is exploiting the existing international technology transfer rules - even breaking specific agreements and US laws - to modernize as fast as it can. Given China's increasingly aggressive posture, I am very concerned that we're selling our edge in military technology to a nation that may well be our adversary someday."

US arms sales to Taiwan

According to Foreign Minister Qichen, speaking immediately before his 20 November meeting with Christopher: "China is most concerned about massive sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan. The question of Taiwan is the core issue on US-China relations."

Christopher retorted: "We are assessing very carefully ant arms sales to Taiwan and...this has been limited to defensive weapons."

Peaceful nuclear cooperation

The two States signed a cooperation accord in 1985, but no progress followed.. According to Christopher (20 November):

"On nuclear non-proliferation, both sides agreed to work towards an early implementation of the 1985 US-China agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation... As we move forward on nuclear non-proliferation, the United States is prepared to consider , as consistent with US law, further steps in the area of peaceful nuclear cooperation even in advance of our full implementation of the 1985 agreement..."

According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cui Tiankai (20 November):

"The Sino-US agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear technology was signed 11 years ago. We believe it is high time to put this agreement into practice... The China market is very big..."

Detargetting and no-first use

Shortly after Christopher's visit, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in the Philippines, the two States made and rejected arms control initiatives. On 25 November, Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord revealed to reporters that the US had tried to reach agreement on nuclear detargetting:

"We would favour a detargetting agreement with the Chinese... It would probably be primarily symbolic. We are not aiming weapons at each other. But it would be a confirmation and it would be useful and symbolic. The Chinese prefer to link it with a no-first-use condition, which we cannot agree to. ... The question [of detargetting] has [now] come up and it would be useful and symbolic. We think it would be very useful indeed. We have to keep talking to the Chinese about it."

As Lord mentioned, China, for its part, instead proposed a no-first-use agreement. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cui Tiankai (28 November): "China would...like to have an accord with the United States in which the two countries would undertake not to resort to a nuclear first strike... [Such an accord would play] a positive role in the stability of the two countries and world security..."

Speaking at the APEC Summit on 25 November, Foreign Minister Qichen said, of the relationship between the two proposals:

"The United States proposed that China and the United States sign an agreement on detargetting of nuclear missiles against each other... We agreed to the proposal but we want to add one more thing, that is mutual non-first-use of nuclear weapons... We think that by adding these contents, the agreement will be more complete and will have real content..."

Reports: US makes progress on nuclear issues with China, but Taiwan issue lingers, Agence France-Presse International News, 20 November; US may relax curbs on nuclear sales to China, Reuter News Reports, 20 November; US said to mull nuclear cooperation with China, Reuter News Reports, 20 November; China protests US arms sales to Taiwan, US asks about human rights, AP Datastream International News Wire, 20 November; US sees China faithful to pledge to curb weapons export, Agence France-Presse International News, 21 November; China sold missile technology, chemical agents to Iran - report, Agence France-Presse International News, 21 November; China reacts angrily to claims it sold weapons to Iran, Agence France-Presse International News, 22 November; Reports show problems in sales to China of Dual-Use Items - Spence, Aerospace Daily, 22 November; Beijing rebuffed Washington on nuclear deal - report, Agence France-Presse International News, 24 November; China ready to forge nuclear detargetting with US, Agence France-Presse International News, 25 November; US proposed nuclear weapons deal to China, Agence France-Presse International News, 25 November; China shoots down US proposal on not targeting missiles, AP Datastream International News Wire, 25 November; China calls on US to agree first strike nuclear accord, Agence France-Presse International News, 26 November; Beijing proposes China-US nuclear non-aggression accord, Agence France-Presse International News, 28 November; Chinese Defense Chief begins formal meetings at Pentagon, AP Datastream International News Wire, 9 December; Chinese Defense Chief dismisses concerns on sales to Iran, Pakistan, Agence France-Presse International News, 9 December.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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