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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 22, January 1998

Documents and Sources

China and Non-Proliferation: Interview with Senior US Official

Interview with Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation, in 'US Foreign Policy Agenda', the electronic journal of the United States Information Agency, January 1998.

Extracts

"Interviewer (Jane Morse): 'As a nuclear State and major power in Asia, China is critical to the goal of ending the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What moves has China made in this regard and what future steps does the United States hope China will take?'

Einhorn: 'China, in the past several years, has taken a number of steps to demonstrate its commitment to non-proliferation...

In 1992, China became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty... It signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 and became an original party to the CWC in April of this year. It is also a party to the Biological Weapons Convention.

So China, especially during the 1990s, has taken a variety of important steps to support non-proliferation agreements, and it also has cooperated with the United States in supporting non-proliferation goals in various regions of the world.

Most importantly, it worked with the United States to promote an effective solution to the North Korean nuclear problem in 1994. ... The Chinese were effective behind the scenes in supporting a solution that we eventually reached with the North Koreans bilaterally in October 1994, which resulted in the end of the North Korean nuclear program. ...

China's behavior has changed quite dramatically over the past several decades. During the 1960s, for example, it was the declared policy of China to support nuclear proliferation. The Chinese said that proliferation of nuclear capabilities would, and I quote, 'break the hegemony of the superpowers.'

China has come a long way from the days when it actually favored proliferation. Now, we believe that China is seeing itself more as a major power with important responsibilities. It's a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it's one of the five nuclear-weapons States, and it has come to realize that one of the important attributes of great power status is to abide by international non-proliferation norms. So we think that China is more and more becoming a responsible player.

But I have to say that China's evolution is not yet complete. It has made important progress, but in certain areas of proliferation, it is still engaged in activities that are problematic for us. For example, while its nuclear cooperation record with third parties has significantly improved, in the area of missile and chemical proliferation we still see problems. We don't believe that China is adequately controlling the export of dual-use chemical-related items. And some Chinese entities have actually contributed to Iran's chemical weapons program.

In the missile area, we see China exporting components and technology which are assisting both Pakistan and Iran in the acquisition of missiles. ...'

Interviewer: 'What steps has China taken in this area with either Pakistan or Iran?'

Einhorn: 'China has taken a number of steps. It has adopted a much more restrained and responsible approach to the export of nuclear equipment and technology. In the past, China had actually contributed to Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear program. That is to say it contributed to facilities in Pakistan that do not have International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards or inspections. This has been a very unfortunate practice. But the Chinese committed in May 1996 not to provide any assistance to these unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And we have no reason to conclude that they have violated this undertaking.

Also, the Chinese recently assured us - this was in connection with President Jiang Zemin's visit to Washington in October 1997 - that they were not going to engage in any new nuclear cooperation with Iran, and that they would complete existing cooperative projects in a relatively short period of time. We think this was a very responsible step.

China also has taken steps to improve its policy related to export of chemical-related items. In May of 1997 the United States was compelled under its laws to impose trade sanctions against seven Chinese entities for contributing to Iran's chemical program. After these sanctions, we see evidence that the Chinese have taken steps to adopt more rigorous controls on their companies that export to Iran. So this is positive.

They also have taken some steps in the missile proliferation area, but these are more modest. One useful step is agreement to ban the export of any long-range ground-to-ground missiles. And we believe that China has not exported complete ground-to-ground missiles since making that agreement. We're concerned, however, that China continues to provide components and technology to both Pakistan and Iran.'

Interviewer: 'You said that China has agreed not to undertake any new arrangements with Iran, but will complete existing projects. How many projects exist and how damaging are they to non-proliferation interests?'

Einhorn: 'We asked the Chinese, during the negotiations that preceded President Jiang's visit, to itemize precisely what ongoing projects they were involved in with Iran. They told us there were two existing projects we evaluated them and they are very minor. We don't believe they raise proliferation concerns, and so we did not have any difficulty with the Chinese completing them in a relatively short period of time.'

Interviewer: 'What kinds of assurances has China given us regarding controls of nuclear technology and hardware to implement the 1985 US-China Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation?'

Einhorn: 'The Chinese have taken a number of steps...

One was the May 1996 pledge not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And, as I said, China appears to be taking this commitment very, very seriously.

Second, it undertook not to engage in new nuclear cooperation with Iran and to complete existing projects in a short period of time.

Third, it adopted a nuclear export control system, a nationwide comprehensive system that it never had before and that, for the first time, will give it the ability to control effectively both nuclear items and dual-use, nuclear-related items that go to foreign countries.

And fourth, it was important to us that China participate in multilateral nuclear export control deliberations. And on 16 October, China became a member of the NPT Exporters Committee - the so-called 'Zangger Committee,' which is a group of supplier States belonging to the NPT. This will help China become fully familiar with the nuclear export control policies and practices of the responsible supplier governments of the world. And I believe it will reinforce China's movement in a responsible direction.'

Interviewer: 'You discussed China's changing behavior with Iran and Pakistan, but are there other countries to which China has sold weapons?' Einhorn: 'Interestingly, China has not been engaged in sales to a vast number of countries in this area. Often you see public comments from various sources suggesting that China is an indiscriminate seller of arms and destabilizing technologies. In fact, China's sales that we have found questionable have been confined to a relatively small number of recipients. We hope that China continues to improve its record and that we don't see any indication that China is selling its arms and technology more broadly.'

Interviewer: 'The media has questioned the Chinese government's response that it did not know about certain sales by private companies. The argument is made that there really are no private companies in China, so the Chinese government can't claim it did not know about certain sales to foreign countries. How would you address that?'

Einhorn: 'I have followed Chinese behavior in this area very closely for a number of years, and it is entirely plausible to me that there are activities that go on that are not approved and are not even known about by the central government. A case in point was the sale several years ago of ring magnets, relatively unsophisticated pieces of equipment, to Pakistan's uranium enrichment program. The more we looked at this, the more it became very believable that the Chinese entity involved was operating on its own without government oversight. The commercial value of the transfer was something less than $70,000. These were general-purpose goods, but they nonetheless contributed to Pakistan's uranium enrichment program.

This is one reason why we have called for the strengthening of China's nuclear related export controls, because we wanted to remedy this kind of problem and to ensure that the governmental authorities have oversight over all exports that could contribute to proliferation.'"

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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