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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 48, July 2000

Battle in Congress over Chinese Non-Proliferation Record

By mid-July, the issue of alleged deficiencies in China's non-proliferation record and policies was threaten to seriously complicate passage of legislation establishing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) between the US and China - a treasured objective of both the Administration and members of Congress from both parties. On July 14, talks were suspended aimed at securing Senate consideration of the PNTR legislation (S. 2277) in parallel with legislation, proposed by Fred Thompson (Republican - Tennessee), which would impose sanctions on China or its trading partners for violations of international non-proliferation obligations and regulations. The impasse is being generated by the insistence of supporters of Senator Thompson's bill - the China Non-Proliferation Act (S. 2645) - that it be considered prior to the trade issue, a sequence they considered warranted following a major concession by Thompson when he agreed (June 27) not to append his measure to the PNTR bill. The suspension of negotiations could prevent consideration of either measure until September, although informal efforts continued in search of a compromise.

Arguing the case for his proposal, Thompson told the Senate on July 10: "Many of us are free traders; many of us believe in open markets; many of us want to support that. … Is there not any better time, and it is not incumbent upon us in the same general timeframe and the same general debate, that we couldn't…consider something so vitally important to this country as the issue of our nuclear trading partner…? Is it too much to ask of them to cease this dangerous proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the supplying of…rogue nations with weapons of mass destruction…which pose a threat to us? … We are considering now the issue of the national missile defense system. … One of the primary reasons we need a national missile defense system has to do with the activities of the Chinese and their supplying of rogue nations with these materials, expertise, capabilities, military parts that have nuclear capabilities which we are concerned, by the year of 2005, could be turned against us. Must we not consider this as we consider permanent normal trade relations? As important as trade is, is it more important than or national security? I think that question answers itself."

On July 13, comparable legislation to Senator Thompson's was introduced in the House (H.R. 4829) by Representatives Ben Gilman (Republican - New York) and Edward Markey (Democrat - Massachusetts). On July 10, Stuart Eizenstat, the Deputy Treasury Secretary, expressed the Administration's view of the legislation: "In an effort to impose mandatory sanctions on China for weapons proliferation, with a low threshold of proof, it would diminish our ability to work with China on missile proliferation…and would threaten normal trade relationships with that nation…" China's position on the controversy was set out on June 29 by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhu Bangzao:

"China is always opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It has exercised strict and effective export control on certain items in accordance with its own military trade and non-proliferation policy and its international commitments… Sticking to the Cold War mentality, a handful of US Senators are biased against and hostile to China. They turn a deaf ear to the basic facts…and wantonly violate the basic norms governing international relations in attempting to push…the Act into law and undermine the improvement and development of China-US relations out of evil motives. We urge the US Senate not to deliberate and vote in this Act that infringes on China's internal affairs, and we urge the US Government to clearly oppose it and take concrete measures to resolutely prevent it from becoming law, so as not to erect any new and serious obstacles to the improvement and development of China-US relations."

Chinese support for Pakistan's nuclear programme has been a long-standing concern for many critics. On July 2, the New York Times reported that US intelligence had informed the Administration and Congress that China was indeed actively assisting Pakistani construction and development of nuclear missiles. On July 4, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar insisted: "I can reaffirm that Pakistan has not received any transfer inconsistent with China's obligations to [the] MTCR…" The same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sun Yuxi noted: "China does not assist relevant countries in the South Asian region in developing nuclear weapons or vehicles for delivering nuclear weapons… I want to state clearly that there is no such thing as Chinese sales of missile technology to Pakistan… The report is totally groundless."

Reports: Weapons threat to US-China trade bill lifted, Reuters, June 27; Spokesperson - China dissatisfied with the so-called China Non-Proliferation Act by the US Senate, Chinese Foreign Ministry transcript, June 29; China derides US proliferation plan, Associated Press, June 29; China helps Pakistan build missiles, says NY Times, Reuters, July 1; Report - Pakistan wants to swap nuke data with India, Reuters, July 2; Pakistan rejects reports on missiles, Associated Press, July 3; China denies missile charges, Associated Press, July 4; China denies missile technology sales to Pakistan, Reuters, July 4; No Sino-Pak cooperation in missile development in violation of MTCR - Sattar, associated Press of Pakistan, July 4; Treasury's Eizenstat faults China sanctions plan, Reuters, July 10; Text - Senator Thompson July 10 on China's weapons proliferation, US State Department (Washington File); Text - Gilman, Markey introduce bill to curb Chinese proliferation, US State Department (Washington File), July 13; Action on China bill hits snag, Associated Press, July 14.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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