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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 60, September 2001

News Review

US, China Discuss Non-Proliferation as Washington Imposes Sanctions

On September 4, the White House announced an intensification of its diplomatic campaign to persuade China of the non-threatening nature of its missile defence plans. The announcement came four days after Washington imposed sanctions on a Chinese company for allegedly supplying missile technology to Pakistan, and two days after reports - strongly denied by officials - that the US was prepared to turn a blind eye to any Chinese nuclear build-up if Beijing adopted a less hostile stance towards missile defence. The September 4 announcement, issued by White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, read in full as follows:

"The President's policy is to seek to reduce the level of offensive nuclear weapons in the world, to lessen the risk of nuclear war, and to protect the United States and its military forces, allies, and friends from threats like ballistic missile attack. In that context, the United States will hold intensive discussions with China on this subject in the coming weeks. In those discussions, we will share with the Chinese the same briefing on our missile defence testing programme that we have shared with our Asian and European allies and friends and with the Russians. Our consultations with China will make clear that the US missile defence programme does not threaten China but seeks to counter limited missile threats from rogue states and the danger of accidental or unauthorized launches. Only those foreign parties with hostile intent toward the United States have grounds to fear US missile defence.

The United States will not seek to overcome China's opposition to missile defence by telling the Chinese that we do not object to an expansion of their nuclear ballistic missile force. Nor will we acquiesce in any resumption of nuclear testing by China. We are respecting the nuclear testing moratorium and all other nations should as well. No one should try to blame the modernization of China's offensive nuclear forces on our missile defence efforts. China's ongoing modernization effort was initiated years ago. We will tell the Chinese that it is unnecessary and that it is not good for regional stability or for peace.

We believe missile defence can contribute to stability in Asia. Moreover, missile defence is an important element of our broader strategy to combat proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The export of Chinese missile technology continues to be a concern (which is why we imposed sanctions on a Chinese company on Saturday), as does the Chinese build-up of short-range ballistic missiles."

China responded positively but warily to the statement. On September 6, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhu Bangzao told reporters: "While we are opposed to missile defence, because it will lead to serious impacts, on the other hand we also stand for dialogue so as to seek a solution that will not undermine either's interest..."

The Chinese company sanctioned on September 1 was the Chinese Metallurgical Equipment Corporation (CMEC). According to a US State Department official, CMEC had "contributed to Pakistan's...missile programme" by supplying items to the Pakistan National Development Complex (NDC) whose transfer is prohibited under the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Although China is not a member of the MTCR, it has committed itself to not exporting any MTCR-proscribed items.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry immediately (September 1) issued a statement denying the alleged transfers: "Pakistan has not received any technology or equipment from China in violation of MTCR parameters." The statement added, referring to India's missile programme: "The US itself has acknowledged that missile-related transfers are taking place in our neighbourhood...through acquisition of technology from other countries including European sources. These activities clearly violate MTCR parameters, yet no sanctions have been imposed." On September 5, a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry was equally adamant: "We cannot but express our strong indignation and resolute opposition to America's hegemonic act of wilfully imposing sanctions on other countries according to its domestic laws. ... In-depth investigations by the Chinese side indicate that MECC [CMEC] has never engaged in any activities whatsoever alleged by the United States..." Addressing the underlying political issues involved, the statement continued: "On the issue of non-proliferation, the Chinese policy is consistent and clear cut. Last November, China and the United States announced respectively their policies on missile non-proliferation and Sino-US cooperation of space launching. China has all along strictly fulfilled its own commitment. However, the US side not only failed to honour its own commitment but also decided to impose sanctions on China out of nowhere. This can not but make us doubt the sincerity of the United States in honouring the relevant bilateral understandings."

The question of the November 2000 commitments had featured prominently in non-proliferation discussions between the two sides in Beijing in late August. On August 24, State Department spokesperson Philip Reeker summarised the outcome of the deliberations: "We have not yet been fully satisfied in our discussions with them... We will need to do additional work to clarify China's willingness to implement fully the terms of the November 2000 missile agreement, so that will continue to be a topic in our bilateral dialogue." The Chinese side expressed some impatience at the lack of progress, particularly with regard to the question of satellite launches. According to Zhu Bangzao (August 24): "The Chinese side urged the US side to implement the policies it announced last November and take timely and concrete measures to help Sino-US cooperation in the field of satellite launching to return to a normal track at an early date." One of the consequences of the September 1 sanctions is that such cooperation on satellite launches - in particular, the launch of US satellites on Chinese rockets - will not be permitted under US law until doubts over Beijing's proliferation and missile export policy are resolved to Washington's satisfaction.

The first report suggesting that Washington would raise no serious objection to a Chinese nuclear build-up appeared in the New York Times on September 2. In following days, it was unequivocally dismissed as inaccurate by a range of administration officials. On September 7, a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry observed: "China has all along exercised maximum restraint on the development of nuclear weapons. ... China's nuclear forces will not be a threat to any country. The United States is in possession of the strongest military force [in the world]. However, it is bent on developing the missile defence system that would undermine [the] global strategic balance... This will inevitably impede upon the common security of various countries. We [would] hope that the United States would act cautiously."

Earlier, on September 5, China denied US media speculation that it may resume nuclear testing. According to an unnamed senior Chinese diplomat: "China is a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - even if China has not ratified the treaty - and China is not going to test nuclear weapons. ... There are other ways you can prove the reliability of nuclear weapons, through computer simulation."

Reports: US, China begin missile talks in Beijing, Reuters, August 23; US and China at odds on missile proliferation, Reuters, August 24; Foreign Ministry spokesman on the Sino-US Expert Consultation on non-proliferation, Chinese Foreign Ministry, August 24; US sanctions Chinese firm over arms technology, Reuters, September 1; Sanctions imposed on China arms co., Associated Press, September 1; US to tell China it will not object to missile buildup, New York Times, September 2; Text - White House announces discussions with China on missile defense, Washington File, September 4; Foreign Ministry spokesman on US decision to impose sanctions, Chinese Foreign Ministry, September 5; Nuclear tests not planned, Chinese diplomat says, New York Times, September 5; China will discuss missile plans, Associated Press, September 6; Spokesman on US media's report about China's expansion of nuclear weapons, Chinese Foreign Ministry, September 7.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.