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August 27, 2018

EU Retains China Arms Embargo

Wade Boese

The European Union Dec. 8 rejected a Chinese bid to end a 15-year-old arms embargo, delighting the United States. Yet, Beijing’s disappointment and Washington’s satisfaction could be short-lived as the embargo’s eventual end appears likely.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the EU-China summit held at The Hague, the 25-member EU declared its “political will to continue to work towards lifting the embargo.” China “welcomed the positive signal” but also stated that the embargo “should be immediately removed.”

The EU’s main decision-making body Dec. 17 indicated it wanted to make a final decision on the embargo within the next several months. The result “should not be an increase of arms exports from EU Member States to China, neither in quantitative nor qualitative terms,” the European Council stated.

With a wholesale military modernization program underway, Beijing has pressed the EU to drop its prohibition on arms sales originally imposed in reaction to the Chinese government’s ruthless 1989 crackdown on peaceful demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. Beijing contends its human rights record has improved and labels the embargo an anachronism of the Cold War.

Some European capitals share Beijing’s view that the embargo is outdated and an impediment to improving ties between Europe and China. Paris and Madrid are lobbying hard for abolishment of the embargo, as is German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose position is not supported by his own Social Democratic Party.

Nevertheless, one European diplomat from a country favoring the embargo told Arms Control Today Dec. 15 that momentum is building for the eventual lifting of the embargo, but when that will happen “is uncertain.”

U.S. officials expressed similar resignation. In a Dec. 15 interview with Arms Control Today, a Department of State official said the United States, which also bans arms sales to China, was “pleased” with the summit’s conclusion, but conceded the issue “is not a problem that is going to go away.” A congressional staffer interviewed the same day predicted a European reversal could come in a matter of months.

The State Department official argued that the host of summit agreements between the European Union and China, including commitments to cooperate on nonproliferation and arms control issues, reveals that it is “possible to have a good relationship with China and still have an arms embargo.” The official further warned that a renewed arms trade relationship between China and European countries could prompt the United States to impose greater restrictions on arms and technology sold to Europe. “Congress will spank [the Europeans] on this,” the official added.

The congressional staffer affirmed this assertion. Concerns about U.S. technology leaking to China via Europe would likely sour congressional support for cross-Atlantic ventures on major weapons systems, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, the staffer said. An EU decision to lift the embargo, according to the staffer, would most likely produce an “overreaction by Congress.”

U.S. support for preserving the embargo reflects unease with the possibility that Beijing could turn the weapons against its own people or Taiwan, which China covets and the United States has pledged to help defend. Additional qualms stem from China’s past proliferation record of selling arms to purchasers hostile to the United States.

Some EU countries say U.S. fears are exaggerated and that waiving the embargo will not result in a splurge of European arms sales to China. European weapons deals, they argue, will be constrained by a 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports that sets out criteria—such as a potential arms buyer’s human rights record—that are supposed to be taken into consideration before any export occurs. U.S. critics counter that the code, which EU members are considering revising, is nonbinding and not much of an obstacle to determined sellers.




Taiwan's Chen Proposes Arms Control With China, But Seeks U.S. Arms

Wade Boese

While lobbying for legislative approval of a huge U.S. arms package offer, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian suggested Oct. 10 that Taiwan and China give arms control a thought. Beijing, which is pressing Europe to drop a long-standing Chinese arms embargo, has not responded.

Delivering a speech celebrating Taiwan’s National Day, Chen declared that China and Taiwan “should seriously consider the issue of arms control and take concrete actions to reduce tension and military threats across the Taiwan Strait.” He further said both capitals should review their “armament policies” and explore a code of conduct for the strait to help keep the peace.

The same day, Chen issued a public message that Taiwan would “continue to strengthen the military and enhance our defense capabilities.” He also accused Taiwan’s lawmakers, who face parliamentary elections Dec. 11, of letting politics interfere with the island’s security by squabbling over, thereby postponing, a vote on roughly $18 billion in new arms procurement. “A decision should not be considered correct one day but incorrect the next merely for electoral or political considerations,” the president stated.

In April 2001, President George W. Bush offered to sell Taiwan four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers, eight diesel-powered submarines (even though the United States has not built a conventional submarine since 1959), and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Since then, the administration also has prodded Taiwan to acquire Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors to protect itself against China’s ever-growing number of short-range ballistic missiles aimed across the 160-kilometer-wide strait. The Pentagon estimated this summer that 500 Chinese missiles sit opposite Taiwan.

The high cost of the U.S. arms, differences over the proper mix of weapons to buy, problems finding an appropriate submarine design and builder, and concerns about upsetting China have all combined to delay a final decision by Taipei. After narrowly winning re-election as president in March, Chen revived the push for the arms package.

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province that should be under the mainland’s control, has vehemently objected to the pending U.S. deal. Although generally opposed to any foreign arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing is particularly agitated about the prospect of Taiwan importing advanced weapons with Chen at the helm because he has been a long-time proponent of Taiwanese independence.

Making matters worse from Beijing’s perspective is the perceived meddling of some U.S. officials, such as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless, exhorting Taiwan to stop its dallying and buy U.S. arms. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan said Oct. 11 that such comments cause China “strong indignation.”

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan rankle Beijing so much that over the past two years it has reportedly floated a vague tradeoff involving a freeze or withdrawal of Chinese missile deployments targeting Taiwan for Washington turning off its arms pipeline to Taipei. Neither Taiwan nor the United States showed interest.

Washington committed itself in 1979 to provide Taiwan with enough arms to sustain a “sufficient self-defense capability.” More than $19 billion in U.S. arms have been delivered since then. China, which has received 152 combat aircraft and six warships from Russia over the past dozen years, ranks as the top arms buyer in the developing world since 2000 with more than $9.3 billion in new weapons deals, according to an August arms sales report by the Congressional Research Service. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Without remarking on Chen’s arms control proposal, Beijing blasted other aspects of his speech. Zhang Mingqing, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, denounced Oct. 13 Chen’s remarks as a “grave provocation to the peace and stability” of the region and as promoting separatism. Beijing has repeatedly warned it might use force against Taiwan if the island ever asserted its independence.

Meanwhile, China is working hard to persuade the European Union to lift its arms embargo imposed after Beijing’s brutal 1989 crackdown on unarmed protestors in Tiananmen Square. (See ACT, September 2004.) Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue told reporters Oct. 12 that China’s human rights record had improved remarkably over the past several years, obviating that justification for retaining the embargo. “Lifting the weapons embargo is in line with the common interests of China and Europe,” Zhang concluded.

The United States, which also maintains an arms embargo on China, is urging the EU to turn a deaf ear to Beijing’s plea.

Missile Regime Puts Off China

Wade Boese

More than 30 countries dedicated to limiting the spread of ballistic missiles decided in October against letting China join their group because of Beijing’s alleged failure to meet their nonproliferation standards. They also expanded the list of items that governments should be more cautious about exporting.

After gathering Oct. 6-8 in Seoul for an annual decision-making meeting, the 34 members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) made no mention of China’s membership bid, but a U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Oct. 15 that the absence of such a statement was evidence of Beijing falling short. Members could not reach the necessary consensus to offer China membership because of concerns about Beijing living up to the regime’s export control and behavior standards, according to the official, who added, “They’re not there yet.”

In the weeks preceding the MTCR meeting, the United States imposed proliferation sanctions on eight Chinese companies. One of those, Xinshidai, was specifically accused of missile proliferation. The others, two of which the Bush administration previously penalized for missile proliferation, were punished for unspecified deals with Iran, which Washington charges is covertly seeking nuclear weapons and developing ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Beijing vehemently objected to the U.S. accusations and sanctions. “We are firm and rigorous in our attitude, position, and laws and regulations on opposing the proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction] and their delivery vehicles,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan stated Sept. 23. Deeming U.S. sanctions as “wrong practices,” Kong also warned that they “will not help expand China-U.S. cooperation on nonproliferation.”

Although it failed for now to win MTCR membership, China has made some headway this year in its campaign to gain acceptance as a responsible exporter. Beijing successfully acceded in May to the now-44 member Nuclear Suppliers Group, whose members restrict their nuclear trade. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Ten other countries, including Romania, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia, also saw their MTCR membership hopes at least temporarily dashed.

Meanwhile, MTCR members agreed to exercise greater controls on what they export. Topping the list of new products to be regulated are precision ball bearings, which are critical in building liquid-propellant missile engines.

MTCR members also vowed to focus on stopping proliferators from using intermediaries and front companies to get what they want. The U.S. official said this is a challenge that members are still “coming to grips with.”

Does China Belong in the Missile Technology Control Regime?

Victor Zaborsky

The prospect that China might soon join a U.S.-initiated regime aimed at controlling ballistic missiles might seem laughable. After all, the United States has imposed sanctions on China for years for hawking missiles and missile technologies to dozens of countries scattered around the globe. Yet, this month a gathering of U.S. and other diplomats in Seoul could signal support for China’s bid to join the two-decades-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Although the effort is likely to spur opposition from defense hawks worried about the growth of China’s military power and those who oppose any cooperation with China because of trade or human rights disputes, backing China’s entry into the MTCR is the right call. China has recently improved its export controls and has adjusted other policies so as to play a more cooperative and active role in nonproliferation efforts. Allowing Beijing to join the regime will support these positive trends toward transparency and prevent backsliding, particularly as MTCR membership could grant the right to participate in cooperative projects with fellow members of interest to the Chinese government and key industries. Leaving China out of the MTCR, on the other hand, is only likely to encourage Beijing to continue selling missile technology to countries of concern.

China’s Spotty Record
Negotiations to create an MTCR began in 1983 and reached fruition in 1987. The initial membership consisted of seven economically developed, technically advanced, and largely Western states—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These founding countries viewed themselves as having a mission to control transfers of missile technology to the rest of the world, primarily to the Communist bloc and countries with nuclear weapons programs. Communist China with its ICBM force was viewed by the Western nations as a particular threat and as one of the “target” countries with which the MTCR members should strictly control their missile exports. The MTCR restricts exports of missiles and related technology capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers or delivering any type of weapon of mass destruction.

Lessons From China's Successful
NSG Campaign

On May 28, China was accepted as a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Although China’s accession to the NSG received more solid support in the U.S. government than the issue of MTCR membership, partly because China is already an acknowledged nuclear power, it was still accompanied by a great deal of controversy and criticism. The debates that took place over the pros and cons of China’s NSG accession may shed light on the heated disputes likely to accompany China’s bid for MTCR membership.

First, does China’s nonproliferation record warrant membership in good standing in a regime whose mission is to fight proliferation?
Many in the Bush administration argued that China’s nuclear nonproliferation record and national nuclear export control infrastructure have improved enough to grant it membership. In public testimony, administration officials supported China’s membership in the NSG. In private, however, some administration officials, including Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton; Department of Defense officials; and some influential think tanks opposed admitting China to the NSG.[1] Beijing’s detractors pointed to China’s alleged sales of sensitive nuclear technology and equipment to countries of proliferation concern, which had previously triggered U.S. sanctions. They stated that it would be risky to assume that China will not sell nuclear materials, equipment, and expertise to its allies, given its lack of restraint in the past.

China has also drawn criticism by insisting on fulfilling a pledge to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan, even though these sales would not have been permitted under NSG guidelines. Beijing argues that it announced its plans to do so three weeks prior to becoming an NSG member. This narrow approach angered many NSG members.[2] “One of the basic concepts of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is that you don’t supply reactors to countries [such as Pakistan] that are not members of the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. What are the Chinese really giving up if they can supply a proliferant country like Pakistan with nuclear technology? What’s the point of having them in the group?” argues Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Arms Control.[3]

Given that China has often followed a similar legalistic approach to its past missile proliferation commitments, critics may well ask about the wisdom of having China in the MTCR. To be sure, China’s formal missile export control infrastructure is becoming more and more compatible with that of most MTCR members. Nevertheless, the willingness of the government to fully implement and enforce the letter and spirit of the new system—and, consequently, China’s eligibility for MTCR membership—remains

Second, what would be the effect of China’s joining the NSG?
More precisely, in the words of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, “how [might] China’s accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group…hinder the work of that body?” Hyde referred to difficulties that Russia has posed in the NSG on certain issues, namely its involvement in exports with questionable legitimacy. Responding to this concern, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf argued that “[w]e do not foresee China posing the same difficulties regarding [its] nuclear supply relationship, as this is not an issue for China.”[4] Yet, this may be an issue with respect to China’s MTCR obligations. For many years, China has been defending its right to export missiles and missile technology at its own discretion. It has developed a network of actual and prospective customers, including Pakistan and North Korea. If it came to sacrificing lucrative export deals because of MTCR membership obligations, it is reasonable to expect that China would, as with the NSG, use the narrowest possible interpretation of the regime’s norms and would search out loopholes to make those deals possible.[5]

Third, does China have sufficient economic incentives to join the NSG?
Absolutely. In 1998, the U.S.-Chinese agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation entered into force. According to the congressional resolution approving the agreement, U.S. nuclear exports to China could not begin until the president made certain nonproliferation-related certifications.

As of today, the peaceful U.S.-Chinese nuclear cooperation contemplated in the agreement has only moved ahead slowly: U.S. officials announced in early September that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued export licenses for certain components for Chinese nuclear power reactors. All told, 20 license exports for U.S. nuclear goods to China have been granted between August 1998 and June of this year.[6] Senior Department of State officials make it clear that the administration will continue to tie the implementation of the agreement on nuclear cooperation to China’s record on nuclear exports and its NSG membership. Moreover, referring to China’s plans to expand its nuclear energy sector significantly (Beijing aims to spend up to $35 billion in the next decade to build 30 nuclear power reactors), they argue that, “if the Chinese buy from the United States, we would have substantial influence on how China manages its civilian nuclear program in such areas as nuclear safety.”[7] Supporters put forward a similar argument about China’s bid for the MTCR, that the United States would know more about and exert more influence on the Chinese missile and space program if China were admitted into the MTCR and the International Space Station partnership. At the moment, it is not clear how strongly joint U.S.-Chinese nuclear and space projects will constrain China from nuclear and missile sales of proliferation concern, but it is obvious that the desire to secure lucrative commercial deals is a powerful motive behind China’s newly favorable attitude toward the MTCR and the NSG.


1. Carol Giacomo, “U.S. Backs China Joining Nuclear Group,” Reuters, May 12, 2004, available at http://in.news.yahoo.com/040511/137/2d173.html.

2. Daniel Horner, “Joining NSG Won’t Require China to Scrap Pakistan Reactor, U.S. Says,” Nuclear Fuel, March 1, 2004.

3. Giacomo, “U.S. Backs China Joining Nuclear Group.”

4. John S. Wolf, statement before the House International Relations Committee, May 18, 2004, available at http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/
108/wol051804.htm (hereinafter Wolf statement).

5. See Manpreet Sethi, “Despite NSG, China’s Aims Remain Unclear,” Defense News, July 27, 2004.

6. Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, “Nuclear Technology Exports to China,” September 2, 2004, available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2004/35937.htm.

7. Wolf statement.

In the early 1990s, the proliferation concerns with respect to China became twofold. In addition to concerns about missile proliferation to China, there emerged a challenge of missile proliferation from China. Although it remained a targeted recipient of MTCR-controlled technologies, China became a supplier of MTCR-restricted missiles, components, and technologies to countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.[1] In other words, it had become an exporter not bound by any missile nonproliferation export control obligations. During this period, the United States assumed the role of the principal “watchdog” over China’s alleged missile sales. U.S. officials sought to use sanctions as levers to encourage China to follow MTCR guidelines, even though Beijing was not a regime member. All told, Washington has imposed sanctions on China 10 times, including three times last year.

In response, Beijing has repeatedly assured Washington that it would end the sales and twice endorsed joint statements avowing that they would respect MTCR guidelines. Nevertheless, Beijing has been accused of adhering to an overly narrow interpretation of the MTCR restrictions and neglecting the nonproliferation spirit and standards set by the regime’s “founding fathers” (see sidebar). The limits of this approach have clearly frustrated U.S. policymakers. As Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter stated in July 2003, “At the highest levels, the Chinese government has claimed that it opposes missile proliferation…. Unfortunately, the reality has been quite different.”[2]

Whether China’s membership in the regime would lessen or exacerbate this frustration is not obvious and depends on the answer to three questions. First, will the MTCR membership criteria allow the regime to admit a country like China? Second, if the MTCR deems Chinese membership acceptable in principle, what will be the potential bargaining chips in negotiations between China and the regime and, most importantly, between China and the United States? Third, in the long run, will China be more of an asset or a burden to the MTCR once it is admitted?

Will China Satisfy Membership Criteria?
At its inception, the regime’s informal membership criteria emphasized like-mindedness, effective export control laws and enforcement, and a strong nonproliferation track record and counted only exporters as members. As the MTCR has expanded to 34 members, however, its standards have eased, allowing countries to be admitted which are not completely like-minded, do not completely share the same nonproliferation ideals as the original members, and are not even exporters. These have included EU and NATO members such as Norway and Iceland, but also former Soviet republics such as Russia and Ukraine.

Rather than the more standardized criteria of the past, admission of new members to the MTCR today has become a bargaining process involving political and commercial tradeoffs and side payments. So, whether or not China joins the organization is going to depend largely on what demands the current members and Beijing bring to any accession negotiation and the prospects that they can be realized or surrendered.

China’s Goals
What benefits might China gain by joining the MTCR? For China, the most obvious advantages of joining the MTCR would be access to new technology and participation in new space-related projects that are not available to regime outsiders. Beijing is also looking for trade and concessions not directly related to space and missile activities.

Resuming Satellite Launches
Resuming the launching of U.S. satellites aboard Chinese rockets would pay immediate dividends for China. In January 1995, the United States and China signed the Agreement Regarding International Trade in Commercial Launch Services that gave Beijing the right to launch 15 U.S.-built satellites into geosynchronous orbit through 2001. The downturn in U.S.-China relations in the last years of the Clinton administration, however, rendered the agreement moot and darkened its prospects for extension.

In November 2000, the Department of State pledged to discuss an extension and provide China with a new satellite launch quota after China issued its most stringent and specific policy statement on missile nonproliferation to date, but the imposition of missile proliferation sanctions in September 2001 nullified that pledge. Presently, the negotiations are in limbo, although there is reason to believe that both sides will use the issue as a major bargaining chip while negotiating the terms of China’s accession to the MTCR.

Participation in the International Space Station
Another bargaining chip could be China’s participation in building the International Space Station (ISS). In October 2003, China launched its Shenzhou-5 spacecraft into orbit with taikonaut Yang Liwei on board, becoming the third nation to launch a man into space. The Chinese space program is ambitious, calling for the construction of a space station and a space shuttle, as well as lunar exploration, by 2010. China’s budding space effort would surely benefit by gaining a role in these prestigious and lucrative space endeavors and by learning from countries such as the United States and Russia.

The ISS, a 16-nation, $95 billion endeavor, could surely use the potential of China’s space program. It could also use China’s financial support. Yet, the notion of Chinese participation in the ISS has met with a tepid response from U.S. officials. For the record, they say that Chinese “technology is not mature” compared to the technology of the leading ISS partners.

The real reason behind Washington’s uncooperative reaction may be a suspicion that Beijing’s space effort is less a civilian program than a military endeavor that could eventually threaten the United States. Some experts contend that it is possible to develop military space technology through a manned program and that China’s piloted Shenzhou spacecraft could serve as a reconnaissance platform.[3] In such a case, bringing China into an ISS partnership that involves sharing information and technology would risk proliferating military technology to China. Moreover, given China’s proliferation record, that could further equate to the proliferation of missile technology from China to countries of concern.

Yet, some outside experts contend that allowing China to become an active ISS participant would bring significant nonproliferation advantages, by increasing transparency about its programs and capabilities.[4] By engaging China in joint space projects, the United States would have a better appreciation of how the military and civilian arms of the integrated Chinese rocket-science program interact and how the decision-making mechanism works. It would also provide Washington with much-needed leverage to persuade Beijing to stay in compliance with MTCR export control norms. U.S. law allows the United States to impose certain sanctions against individual companies in MTCR member states if they violate regime provisions. Until now, the dozens of sanctions imposed on Chinese companies have had a rather limited effect because most of these firms do no business with U.S. partners anyway.[5] (See ACT, September 2003.) Engaging Chinese firms in U.S.-led space projects would put Beijing in a position where it has much to lose if slapped with sanctions for inappropriate missile sales.

Full Market Economy Status
A non-space-related bargain between China and the United States could center around granting China full market economy status, which would effectively lower tariffs on Chinese imports and allow Beijing to better defend itself against charges that it dumps its goods by selling them abroad at below-production prices.[6] This issue has become more pressing due to recent trade spats between China and the United States and as China comes under increasing U.S. criticism for allegedly engaging in trade practices that hurt U.S. industry.[7]

The prospect of granting China full market economy status and providing it with nuclear reactor technology was among the major themes of the talks between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Chinese officials in Beijing in mid-April 2004. China is soon expected to solicit bids from foreign partners to build new nuclear reactors, and U.S. companies will compete against other bidders for lucrative contracts.

U.S. May Not Deliver Its Part of the Bargain
China may receive less than it expects from entry into the MTCR. As the previous experience of other space powers such as Brazil, Russia, and Ukraine illustrate, MTCR membership does not guarantee equal treatment by Washington in civilian space programs or technology-sharing.

As the MTCR has grown, the United States has demonstrated a tendency to categorize MTCR members as more trusted and less trusted. The less trusted partners get less privileged treatment from Washington when it comes to sharing of technology or help in developing civilian space programs. For instance, Brazil entered the MTCR in hopes of gaining access to space technology unavailable to outsiders to the regime. In the bargain, Brasilia hoped to modernize its failure-plagued program. U.S. policy, however, has been to press Brazil to curb its space-launch development efforts, not improve them.[8]

The sometimes bumpy implementation of the Sea Launch venture also exemplifies the lack of “nonproliferation trust” extended by the United States to its partners in space exploration projects. Sea Launch is a U.S.-Russian-Ukrainian-Norwegian endeavor to launch payloads from a floating platform stationed in the equatorial waters south of Hawaii. The Ukrainian company Yuzhmash supplies Zenith rockets, Russian company Energia provides upper-stage engines for these rockets, the Norwegian firm Kvaerner modified the 30,000-ton oil rig into a launch platform and built a command ship, and Boeing is the lead investment partner and serves as overall system integrator. In 1998 the State Department put the Sea Launch project on hold for a couple of months and fined Boeing $10 million for allegedly violating Cold War-era export control procedures in transferring sensitive technology to its partners in the project—and fellow MTCR members—Russia and Ukraine.

In the case of China, it is more than likely that cooperative space projects with the United States and possibly some other Western nations will experience similar difficulties arising from a lack of trust about Beijing’s nonproliferation declarations and MTCR commitments. Concerns about the possibility of space cooperation between the United States and China turning into proliferation of missile technology was set in the mid-1990s, when U.S. satellite manufacturers improved the reliability of China’s Long March space launchers. In the aftermath of three failed launches that destroyed satellites built by Hughes and Loral, the two companies transferred rocket design information to China without obtaining the legally required licenses.

Congress’s controversial Cox report, issued in May 1999, blamed the two U.S. satellite manufacturers for improving China’s ballistic missile capabilities because the technology they had transferred could be used for both commercial and military purposes. The Cox report argued that, “[t]o the extent any valuable information was transferred to the [People’s Republic of China’s (PRC)] space program, such information would likely find its way into the PRC’s ballistic missile program. The ballistic missile and space-launch programs have long been intertwined and subordinate to the same ministry and state-owned corporation in the PRC.”[9]

Many in the U.S. government and Congress still argue that transferring dual-use technology to China for joint space projects would contribute to China’s effort to refine its ballistic missile capabilities or that China would secretly re-export technology it obtained from joint space projects to third parties. A long-time tradition of viewing China as a cheater will not vanish overnight, even if China acceeds formally to the MTCR.

China’s Likely Behavior as an MTCR Member

Still, a decision about admitting China to the MTCR ultimately involves a judgment by the United States and current MTCR members about China’s likely behavior once it becomes a member.

One concern stems from China’s impact on efforts to reach consensus on key decisions within the MTCR. Some argue that having a powerful member likely to have a “special opinion” on key issues would be destructive for a consensus-based regime. When making a decision on whether to bring China into the MTCR, the regime members will attempt to ensure that the new participant will contribute to constructive decision-making within the institution. A number of concerns will have to be addressed: Will China share the common perception of the rules and norms in the regime, or will it opt for a narrow interpretation of compliance? Will China facilitate more stringent control measures within the regime, or will it obstruct the introduction of such measures? Will China actively share information with other regime members, or will it be reluctant to do so? Will other members trust China enough to share sensitive information? Beijing has definitely come a long way from condemning the MTCR to considering full-fledged membership in the regime, but it remains unclear whether Beijing has come far enough to become a really valuable addition.

Most importantly, however, Beijing will have to persuade the MTCR that its days of spreading missiles and missile technology around the globe are over. After all, what current members would hope to gain from China’s entry into the MTCR is an end to this behavior and its assistance in deterring others from following the same path. Notwithstanding China’s numerous nonproliferation pledges and export control improvements, many administration officials fear that China might cheat on its obligations if it becomes a full member of the regime, undermining the integrity of the MTCR. Some argue that the right way to persuade China to comply with MTCR norms would be to continue the carrot-and-stick policy Washington has applied toward Beijing since the early 1990s. Getting them to end this policy requires them to feel confident that China will act as a responsible global citizen as part of the MTCR.

Such a judgment should not be impossible. In fact, the international community has already made a similar judgment in permitting China to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) (see sidebar). China is clearly trying to assume a prominent role in the international arena, and the most effective way to do so is through integration into current economic, political, and security institutions and initiatives. Today’s war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation could serve as a vehicle driving China to a new level of trust and a new level of technological cooperation with the United States and other Western nations. For export control regimes such as the MTCR and NSG, China has been a target country for a long time. Its decision to apply for membership in these regimes—its apparent turn from being a part of the “problem” to being a part of the “solution”—marks a significant shift in China’s attitude toward nonproliferation policies and practices, toward the “discriminatory,” U.S.-led export control arrangements, and toward the United States itself.

As a part of its overall policy shift, China earlier this year voted for UN Security Council Resolution 1540, intended to strengthen nonproliferation measures. Under the six-party negotiations framework, Beijing is actively participating in the effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. On a national level, China has also made dramatic improvements to its nonproliferation export control infrastructure. As a follow-up to November 2000 and August 2002 statements imposing stringent missile nonproliferation measures, the Chinese government in December 2003 released a “White Paper on China’s Nonproliferation Policy,” which significantly upgraded the elements of China’s national export control mechanism.[10] (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

As far as the MTCR’s membership philosophy is concerned, embracing China seems to be a development in the right direction. One has to remember that the MTCR is the missile nonproliferation export control regime that strives mainly to combat the proliferation of WMD delivery systems, using controls on exports of WMD-relevant technology. Today, it seems that the political reasons for joining the MTCR appear to be much more important than those related to the ability to supply this technology. Although Romania, Malta, and Cyprus—other countries currently in line for MTCR membership—could be viewed as a valuable addition to the regime in terms of political support, they are nonexporting states and present rather limited, if any, proliferation risk. Instead, the major focus of MTCR activities should be to engage active exporters, such as China, within the control framework. It makes far more sense to bring China in and give it a chance to improve its image and practices than to keep it on the sidelines with no international constraints on its enormous missile export capabilities. ACT


1. “China Denies Missile Sales to Iran, S. Arabia,” Middle East Newsline, August 8, 2001.

2. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “China’s Proliferation Practices and the North Korean Nuclear Crisis,” 108th Cong., 1st sess., July 24, 2003, p. 7.

3. Tariq Malik, “U.S. Snubbed China’s Offer for Space Cooperation: ‘Technology Not Mature,’” SPACE.com, April 28, 2004.

4. Jeff Foust, “China, Shenzhou, and the ISS,” Space Review, October 20, 2003.

5. See Jonathan Yang, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on China, North Korea,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, p. 35.

6. Market economy status is usually used for anti-dumping cases. If the United States grants China full market economy status, the domestic price of a certain good and relevant cost calculation provided by Chinese enterprises can be applicable in the anti-dumping cases. Otherwise, prices and cost calculation of the same goods in the United States will be applied in the anti-dumping cases, and Chinese enterprises would be in a disadvantageous position when involved in anti-dumping cases.

7. “China Urges U.S. to Ease Tech Export Restrictions, Grant Full Market Status,” Agence France-Presse, April 14, 2004.

8. Frank Braun, “Brazilian Congress Criticizes Bilateral Agreement with U.S.,” Space News, May 14, 2001, p. 28.

9. The Cox report is the informal name for a report issued by a committee headed by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) that investigated the transfers. See House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China, 105th Cong., 2d sess., H. Rep. 851.

10. “Romania to Join Missile Technology Control Organization,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, February 14, 2003; “Weapons Control: Poland Presiding,” Warsaw Voice, February 23, 2003.

An End to the Game of Carrot and Stick?

Introducing and lifting sanctions and wringing nonproliferation assurances from China has been part of a “game” that the United States and China have played since the early 1990s, as Washington has tried to get Beijing to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines without granting China membership in the organization. Imposing sanctions has been the main “stick” that Washington has used, and lifting sanctions the main “carrot.” Reluctant to trust Beijing, Washington has made small steps, lifting only the most recent sanctions and leaving previous ones intact.

In 1991 the United States for the first time imposed sanctions on China in accordance with the newly passed Missile Technology Control Act. The sanctions were imposed for alleged exports of M-11 ballistic missiles to Pakistan and alleged planned exports of M-9 missile technology to Syria. After verbal and written assurance from the Chinese government to abide by the MTCR restrictions, sanctions were lifted in 1992.

But not for long. In December 1992, reports surfaced that China had transferred 34 complete M-11 missiles to Pakistan and also allegedly built a turnkey missile plant for Pakistan at Tarwanah, a suburb of Rawalpindi, in violation of its 1991 pledge. As a result, in May 1993, the Clinton administration reimposed MTCR-related sanctions against China.

The Chinese government responded by calling the sanctions groundless and threatening to scrap its promise to abide by the MTCR guidelines. During post-sanctions negotiations with the United States, China argued that the deal did not violate the MTCR because the M-11 could deliver a 500-kilogram payload only over an advertised range of 280 kilometers, within the MTCR’s parameters, which only permit transfers of missiles that can fly less than 300 kilometers with that payload size. U.S. experts, however, insisted that the missiles in question could easily fly another 20 kilometers as a result of small shifts or cuts in the payload.

The impasse was broken in October 1994 when China and the United States issued a joint statement that underscored the intention of both countries “to work toward a Chinese commitment to control missile-related exports according to the current MTCR guidelines, as well as to promote eventual Chinese membership in the MTCR.” In particular, Beijing pledged that it would abide by Category I of the MTCR and ban exports of all ground-to-ground missiles exceeding the primary parameters of the MTCR. More significantly, China also agreed to the concept of “inherent capability,” which binds it from exporting any missile that is inherently capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload a distance of more than 300 kilometers. Hence, by agreeing to the inherent capability clause, China agreed to prohibit future exports of the M-11 missile and other longer-range missile systems.[1]

At the time, the Clinton administration “encouraged China to undertake negotiations on a binding missile agreement whereby Beijing would adhere to current MTCR Guidelines and Annex.”[2] Beijing, however, instead waited nine years and endured the imposition and lifting of many U.S. sanctions. Finally, in September 2003, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing wrote MTCR Chairman Mariusz Handzlik that Beijing was “ready to positively consider membership in the MTCR.” The first round of negotiations between Chinese officials and an MTCR delegation headed by the new chairman, Carlos Sersale di Cerisano, was held in Paris in mid-February 2004. The discussions focused on comparing Chinese law, particularly the missile-related control list, with the MTCR Annex. A second round of technical exchanges on the expert level was held in Beijing in June and centered around missile export control enforcement issues. Eventually, Beijing moved even further, and in July 2004, at the Fifth Sino-U.S. Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui clearly stated that “we are willing to sign up” to the MTCR.[3]

The U.S.-Chinese nonproliferation negotiations, however, have been clouded recently by sanctions that the State Department imposed Sept. 20 on the Chinese company Xinshidai, which markets equipment for many of the country’s top state-owned firms. Under the two-year sanctions, the United States will ban imports of Xinshidai goods, contracts with the firm, and U.S. assistance. The sanctions came on the heels of press reports that Beijing had supplied missile technologies to Iran. In leaks to the press, some members of the U.S. intelligence community alleged that the transfers took place earlier this year as Beijing was negotiating its prospective membership in the MTCR.[4]

China has not yet officially applied for the MTCR membership, but most experts believe that it is just a matter of time before it does. Either President George W. Bush or Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential nominee, will soon have to decide what serves the U.S. interests the best: having China in the MTCR or out.


1. Philip Saunders, Jing-dong Yuan, and Gaurav Kampani, “How and Why China Proliferates Ballistic Missiles to Pakistan,” Rediff.com, August 22, 2000.

2. Nuclear Threat Initiative Database, available at http://www.nti.org/db/china/engdocs/mtcrusch.htm.

3. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, speech at the Fifth Sino-U.S. Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, July 20, 2004.

4. Bill Gertz, “China Breaks Vow on Halting Arms Transfers,” The Washington Times, August 23, 2004.



Victor Zaborsky is a senior research associate at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia in Athens. He specializes in missile nonproliferation and export control issues.




The prospect that China might soon join a U.S.-initiated regime aimed at controlling ballistic missiles might seem laughable. After all, the United States has imposed sanctions on China for years for hawking missiles and missile technologies to dozens of countries scattered around the globe. Yet, this month a gathering of U.S. and other diplomats in Seoul could signal support for China’s bid to join the two-decades-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). (Continue)

EU Eyes Lifting China Arms Embargo

Gabrielle Kohlmeier

Despite adamant U.S. opposition, France and Germany are pushing to repeal a 15-year-old European Union arms embargo on China.

Last December, Paris successfully prodded the EU leadership to reconsider the ban. Now, expectations are high both on the Chinese and much of the European side that the ban will be lifted by Dec. 8, when EU and Chinese leaders will hold an annual summit in The Hague.

Arms embargoes against China were put in place by the United States and the European Union after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Although sanctions imposed on China by the United States involve concrete prohibitions on the export of any item on the U.S. Munitions List, the European embargo lacks such specificity, resulting in different interpretations of the ban by different EU member states. In some member states, virtually any military sales are banned, whereas in others, such as the United Kingdom, nonlethal military items are not seen as restricted by the embargo.

Moreover, since 1989, both the United States and members of the European Union continued to engage in military transfers to China. According to a 1998 General Accounting Office report, presidential waivers of the U.S. ban between 1989 and 1998 resulted in defense transactions to China worth approximately $350 million. Three EU members—France, Italy, and the United Kingdom—also have delivered military items to China, although no new agreement on the delivery of lethal articles has been negotiated since 1989.

Because sales of some military items have continued, the embargo is seen by many European countries as largely symbolic. Additionally, at a time when the European Union is on the verge of becoming China’s largest trade partner, China has pushed hard for the ban’s removal.

China has become the world’s largest arms importer, with a defense budget estimated at $50-70 billion. Russia is currently China’s leading supplier, providing as much as $2.1 billion worth of arms annually. But Chinese officials claim that many of the Russian items are of inferior quality and that they want to diversify suppliers.

With European defense budgets dropping precipitously, European defense companies have been pushing for entry into China’s market. But critics maintain that lifting the ban will accelerate the modernization of China’s defense, thereby endangering regional security and human rights.

Proponents contend that other safeguards will remain in place, such as the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, a set of principles to which EU members are politically bound. Numerous EU member states have enacted this into their domestic legislation. The code requires EU members to restrict exports to countries with serious human rights violations and to countries where there is a clear risk that weapons could be used for internal repression or external aggression. In addition to strengthening the Code of Conduct, the European Union also is planning to strengthen export controls on dual-use technologies and similarly ambiguous items. Proponents, therefore, argue that with such safeguards in place, repeal of the ban will have a negligible effect on arms sales to China.

That argument appears to have swayed Dutch officials. The Netherlands, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, had strongly supported maintaining the ban, as has Denmark and Sweden. The Dutch leadership declared the issue of the embargo against China to be one of the most difficult issues it will face during its presidency but divulged that it will not resist if the remaining EU states support lifting the ban.

Support for the ban within the European Union seems to be faltering under French and German pressure, but there remain some advocates for preserving the ban. British European Parliament member Graham Watson, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, in an Aug. 3 editorial in the International Herald Tribune called the pressure to lift the ban “commercial, pure and simple,” which goes against the ethical “guiding logic of the ban.”

The United States also has ramped up efforts to convince the European Union to maintain the embargo, which is seen as an essential strategic device to slow China’s defense modernization. Secretary of State Colin Powell has used numerous opportunities this year to emphasize the importance of maintaining the ban, stressing that the reasons for the initial imposition of the ban remain valid today. The United States also is wary of the European Union’s promised safeguards, which it sees as tenuous at best once the embargo is lifted and economic pressures weigh in.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation that will both restrict transfers of U.S. military technology to European countries selling arms to China and forbid purchases by the Pentagon from such countries. This bill could affect current U.S. efforts aimed at making U.S. forces interoperable with the forces of its European allies.

Congress Questions U.S. Support for China Joining Nuclear Group

Wade Boese

Several U.S. legislators expressed reservations May 18 about Bush administration support for China’s successful application to join a voluntary regime to coordinate nuclear export control policies, but a top Department of State official sought to allay their concerns by portraying China as working steadily to improve its nonproliferation behavior.

Led by their chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), several House International Relations Committee members voiced their qualms at a hearing on China’s bid to be part of the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Hyde called China one of the world’s “principal sinners” when it comes to proliferation, while the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, said he had a “deep distrust” of China.

Lawmakers pointed to China’s May 4 agreement to supply Pakistan with a second nuclear reactor, to be located at Chashma, as one basis for their concerns. The sale is contrary to NSG guidelines, but Beijing will be free to fulfill the contract because a government is not held accountable by the NSG for any deals completed before it is accepted as a regime member.

In his prepared hearing testimony, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf acknowledged, “We would prefer that no such cooperation occur.” He added that Washington is seeking “full information” on the Chinese-Pakistani contract.

At the same time, Wolf defended China’s NSG membership bid, saying, China’s “overall trend in the nuclear area is positive.” He cited its “broad cessation” of nuclear relations with Iran and cooperative role over the past seven years in the informal Zangger Committee, which also aims to regulate nuclear exports.

Wolf admitted that China’s record in controlling chemical weapons and missile exports has been less than desirable but said that should not prevent Beijing from joining the nuclear regime. He argued, “Tying NSG membership to a host of other issues at the last moment would not bring us progress on the other issues.”

Still, Wolf indicated that the administration expects China to be more diligent. “China needs to do a consistently better job in identifying and denying risky exports, seeking out potential violators, and stopping problematic exports at the border,” Wolf testified. If it does not, he cautioned, the administration would not hesitate to impose sanctions on any offending Chinese entities, as it has dozens of times. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Wolf further contended it would be beneficial to have China inside the regime because member states would be in a better position to press fellow-member China on its policies. He said U.S. national interests would benefit if China played by the “same rules as every other nuclear supplier.”

Wolf’s case did not persuade Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who grilled Wolf about the Chinese-Pakistani nuclear reactor deal. “I don’t know if this has been thought out that well,” Ackerman concluded.

The hearing took place a week before the NSG met in Sweden and approved membership for China, as well as Estonia, Lithuania, and Malta. — Wade Boese





U.S., North Korea Jockey For China's Support as Working Group Nuclear Talks Approach

Paul Kerr

As North Korea and the United States prepare for a new round of multilateral talks concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear program, both sides are lobbying for the support of China in an effort to gain diplomatic leverage in future talks.

In April, Vice President Dick Cheney and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Beijing within a few days of one another. Both discussed the status of the six-party talks designed to resolve a nearly two-year-old nuclear crisis. China, which provides North Korea with vital supplies of fuel and food, is one of the six parties and the host of the talks.

Soon after the two visits, China announced that a long-stalled “working group” meeting of lower-level officials would take place May 12. The talks, which will be conducted in Beijing, are designed to set the stage for a meeting of higher-level officials before the end of June.

The recent nuclear crisis began in October 2002, when the United States reported that North Korea admitted to pursuing a covert uranium-enrichment program, which can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. As the crisis escalated, Pyongyang also restarted a plutonium-based nuclear program that had been frozen since 1994 by an agreement with the United States. Since then, the two countries have participated in three rounds of multilateral talks with China, including two rounds of six-party talks. The negotiations have made little apparent progress.

During the most recent round of six-party talks held in February, the parties— which also include South Korea, Japan, and Russia—agreed to meet again by the end of June and to form a “working group” of lower-level officials to prepare for the next round. (See ACT, April 2004.)

The visits by Cheney and Kim reflect the diplomatic importance Beijing has assumed since the crisis began. Pyongyang and Washington have both consulted with Beijing repeatedly, attempting to enlist its support for their positions. In an April 9 interview with Arms Control Today (see page 31), Department of State Director for Policy Planning Mitchell Reiss described China as a “mediator” in the dispute, adding that it has “the most influence on the North. And so to get [it] on board…gives us much more weight in these negotiations.”

In an April 15 speech at Fudan University in Shanghai, Cheney similarly argued that pressure from China and the other participants was important to “persuade” North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program. Cheney also indicated that Pyongyang’s neighbors should demand that it yield to U.S. demands as a condition for improved economic relations with them, suggesting that “the sad state” of its economy will force the regime to comply.

U.S. officials have previously suggested that North Korea’s economic weakness provides other governments with a source of diplomatic leverage, but U.S. intelligence agencies have stated that North Korea shows no signs of imminent collapse. (See ACT, December 2003.)

Warning that a nuclear-armed North Korea could both provoke a regional arms race and supply nuclear weapons technology to terrorists or other governments, Cheney also implied that the United States might lose patience with its diplomatic efforts. “It is important that we make progress in this area. Time is not necessarily on our side,” he said. Undersecretary of State John Bolton underscored Cheney’s point April 27, declaring that “simply continuing to talk…is not progress.”

North Korea itself has said that delays in resolving the dispute will give it more time to build its nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Kim met with high-ranking Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao, during his April 19-21 visit. Washington did not become aware of the meeting until shortly before it began, a State Department official told ACT April 28.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported April 21 that the two leaders agreed to “jointly [push] forward the six-party talks process” and Kim promised North Korea “will continue to take a patient and flexible manner and actively participate in the six-party talks process, and make its own contributions to the progress of the talks.”

Kim noted that North Korea’s negotiating stance “remained unchanged,” according to an April 22 state-run Korean Central News Agency statement.

North Korea has said it will dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but only in a series of steps synchronized with significant U.S. concessions.

Pyongyang’s proposal has not swayed Washington, which says North Korea has failed to meet the U.S. bottom-line demand that any dismantlement agreement be “complete, verifiable, and irreversible.” Washington has said bilateral relations could improve if North Korea carries out such a disarmament program, but claims it will not “reward” Pyongyang for doing so, and refuses to specify how it will respond to such North Korean concessions.

Although Kim’s pledge may lend credence to South Korean press reports that Beijing pressured North Korea to soften its negotiating stance, two other recent Chinese decisions underscore Beijing’s reluctance to go along with a U.S. strategy to isolate Pyongyang. Instead, Beijing appears intent on retaining its role as an “honest broker” between North Korea and the United States.

Xinhua reported April 21 that the two countries agreed to “further develop bilateral economic and trade cooperation.” Additionally, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated April 22 that Beijing decided to increase its aid to Pyongyang.

Moreover, China joined South Korea and Russia during the last round of talks in pledging energy assistance to North Korea “on certain conditions.” Additionally, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official told reporters during the talks that the U.S. goal of North Korean nuclear dismantlement is “not enough” and that North Korea’s “concerns should be addressed.”

Indeed, despite Reiss’ insistence during the April 9 interview that the United States is able to form a “united front” against North Korea with the other four participants, China has consistently pressed for North Korea and the United States to show greater “flexibility” in the talks. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated April 15 that resolving the dispute requires “greater flexibility and pragmatism from the other five parties.”





As North Korea and the United States prepare for a new round of multilateral talks concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear program, both sides are lobbying for the support of China...

Taiwan, China, and U.S. in Arms Referendum Imbroglio

Wade Boese

After provoking a stern rebuke from the United States, Taiwan in mid-January modified a proposed March 20 referendum regarding China’s deployment of ballistic missiles aimed at the island. The move appeared to mollify Washington, but Beijing remains upset.

The initial referendum text asked voters to weigh in on whether China should end its deployment of some 500 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and revoke its threats to use force against the island. The amended referendum now simply questions whether Taiwan should buy more missile defense systems if China does not withdraw its missile deployments and whether Taipei should negotiate a “peace and stability” framework with Beijing.

The referendum—the island’s first—was proposed last fall by Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian, a longtime advocate for Taiwanese independence who is currently seeking re-election. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) Both Beijing and Washington objected to the proposal. China perceived the referendum as a sly attempt to put Taiwan on a path to declare independence, which China resolutely opposes because it wants the island returned to the mainland’s control. The United States worried such a vote might plunge China and Taiwan into armed conflict.

Standing next to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao after a Dec. 9, 2003, White House meeting, President George W. Bush warned, “The comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose.”

China was not appeased by the change in the referendum’s language. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan fumed Jan. 18, “This is a unilateral provocation against the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and its essence is to make way for Taiwan’s independence in the name of referendum in the future.”

Washington has reserved official comment on the new wording, but it also has been pushing Taiwan to buy missile defense systems for the past few years
. Taiwan has pleaded it does not have the funding.

Although the United States stands ready to supply Taiwan with arms, it takes issue with growing European interest in resuming weapons deals with China. France and Germany are spearheading an effort to get the European Union (EU) to end its arms embargo against Beijing that has been in place since the Chinese government violently crushed public protests at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Javier Solana, the EU’s top foreign policy and security official, has recently suggested that the embargo is likely to be repealed, although when remains unclear.

Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher Jan. 28 recommended against such an action. “We believe that the U.S. and European prohibitions on arms sales [to China] are complementary, were imposed for the same reasons—specifically, serious human rights abuses—and that those reasons remain valid today,” he said.

Not surprisingly, China views the matter differently. On Feb. 12, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue deemed the EU arms embargo a “relic of the Cold War.” She added, “It is our hope that…this anachronism would be comprehensively resolved as soon as possible.”






After provoking a stern rebuke from the United States, Taiwan in mid-January modified a proposed March 20 referendum regarding China’s deployment of ballistic missiles aimed at the island. 

China Seeks to Join Nuclear, Missile Control Groups

Paul Kerr and Wade Boese

Building on recent efforts to demonstrate its nonproliferation credentials, China is seeking to join two voluntary multilateral export control regimes that seek to limit the spread of nuclear and missile-related technologies. China formally applied to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) Jan. 26, and began talks exploring possible membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Feb. 10.

The 40-member NSG is comprised of nuclear supplier states that have agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and technology to prevent nuclear exports intended for commercial and peaceful purposes from being used to make nuclear weapons. The 33-member MTCR is an export control regime that aims to limit the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles.

During his term as the rotating chairman of MTCR from September 2002 to September 2003, Polish Ambassador Mariusz Handzlik invited Beijing to participate in the regime. According to a Feb. 12 statement made by Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs Hu Xiaodi at the UN Conference on Disarmament, China sent a letter to the MTCR chairman last September indicating it was “ready to positively consider applying for joining the MTCR.”

In Washington Feb. 4, Handzlik said that three rounds of talks are scheduled this year between China and MTCR to clear up “old differences” and to evaluate Chinese export controls to see if they conform with MTCR standards. All current regime members would need to approve of China’s accession to the regime.

U.S. and foreign government officials say future Chinese membership is not preordained. An official from the Department of State said Feb. 6 that Beijing “has ongoing problems of enforcement and implementation of missile export controls,” and a European diplomat remarked the same day that “there are still questions.” However, Handzlik stated there is “good will on both sides” and that the “process has begun.”

Under U.S. urging, China has gradually moved over the past several years to bring its national export controls into line with those of MTCR members. In November 2000, Beijing declared that it would not assist other states in acquiring missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. That pledge was defined as applying to missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more—the same formulation that appears in MTCR guidelines. Then, in August 2002, China published a list of missile-related and dual-use goods that required government approval before being exported.

A Chinese “White Paper” issued last December devoted most of its space to a detailed description of China’s export controls, emphasizing their consistency with international norms. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) The paper pointed out that China maintains “control lists” of nuclear proliferation-sensitive exports that are similar to equivalent NSG lists. It also noted that China issued new export regulations for chemical and biological materials and equipment in October 2002.

China further signaled its willingness to cooperate with the United States by signing a Statement of Intent Jan.12 that “establishes a process for cooperation” between the U.S. Department of Energy and the China Atomic Energy Authority “on a range of nuclear nonproliferation and security activities,” according to an Energy Department press release. These activities include “efforts to strengthen export controls [and] international nuclear safeguards,” the department said.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said Feb. 17 that “we have seen progress by China” on proliferation issues and that China is “very interested in the Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI). The PSI is a U.S.-led multilateral effort to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related materials. Beijing, however, offers a much less sanguine view of PSI in its statements.

State Department officials told Arms Control Today that Washington views China’s application to the NSG as a positive step but that the United States remains concerned about Chinese proliferation activity.

A November CIA report acknowledged improvement in China’s nonproliferation policies but noted possible Chinese cooperation with other states on their nuclear, chemical, and missile programs. Additionally, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Congress in July 2003 that China is failing to enforce its export control laws properly and implied that China sometimes deliberately allows sensitive technology transfers to occur. The Bush administration has imposed sanctions on Chinese firms multiple times for illicit technology transfers. (See ACT, September 2003.)

When asked about press reports that Libya had acquired from Pakistan nuclear weapons designs of Chinese origin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed concern and said Beijing would investigate the matter, Reuters reported Feb. 17.






Building on recent efforts to demonstrate its nonproliferation credentials, China is seeking to join two voluntary multilateral export control regimes that seek to limit...

Taiwan Proposes Controversial Vote on Chinese Missiles

Wade Boese

In the midst of a heated re-election campaign, Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian has proposed a referendum demanding China end its deployment of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan. Washington and Beijing as well as rival Taiwanese politicians all oppose the first-time vote.

The proposed referendum is scheduled for March 20, which coincides with Taiwan’s presidential election. According to Chen, the referendum would call upon China to end its deployment of nearly 500 ballistic missiles along its coast across from Taiwan and renounce the possible use of force against Taiwan.

China claims Taiwan is a renegade province that should be reunified with the mainland. Beijing routinely says it prefers peaceful reunification, but it always publicly reserves the right to resort to force, particularly if Taiwan declares independence.

After a Dec. 9 White House meeting with President George W. Bush, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing saw the proposed referendum as designed to “split Taiwan away from China.” He added that “[s]uch separatist activities are what the Chinese side can absolutely not accept and tolerate.” Wen did soften his tone somewhat by noting that, “so long as there is a glimmer of hope, we would not give up our efforts for peaceful reunification.”

Bush also took exception to Chen’s proposal. He warned that the United States opposes moves by either Beijing or Taipei to upset the delicate relationship between the two. Bush bluntly stated in April 2001 that the United States would do “whatever it took” to help Taiwan defend itself against a Chinese attack. But standing next to Wen, Bush stated, “[T]he comments and actions by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose.”

Chen disavowed in an extensive Dec. 6 interview with The New York Times that the proposed referendum had anything to do with independence and compared Taiwan’s current situation to the 1962 U.S.-Soviet showdown over Moscow’s attempt to deploy ballistic missiles in Cuba. He also said Taiwan’s democracy should not be sacrificed by the United States for better relations with China.

Washington has spoken out against China’s missile deployments and aggressively pushed Taiwan to purchase missile defense systems to counter the Chinese buildup. (See ACT, June 2003.) Taiwan claims missile defenses are too expensive. For its part, China has strongly opposed the U.S. sale of missile defenses and all other arms to the island.






In the midst of a heated re-election campaign, Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian has proposed a referendum demanding China end its deployment of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan...


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