"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

U.S. Sanctions Firms in China, Iran, and Moldova

On May 9, the United States imposed sanctions on a Chinese company, an Iranian firm, and Moldovan entities for what the State Department described as missile-proliferation activities.

The Chinese and Iranian companies will be prohibited from signing contracts with the U.S. government or receiving U.S. aid for two years. They will also be forbidden from importing or exporting any civilian goods or services from the United States. The two Moldovan companies and one individual will be barred for two years from any U.S. contracts or deals for missile-related items.

The sanctions are expected to have the most impact on the Chinese company, North China Industries Corporation (NORINCO), because it conducts a lot of U.S. business. According to its Web site, NORINCO makes 4,000 different kinds of products, including oil field equipment, vehicles, explosives, and firearms. No penalties were imposed on the Chinese, Iranian, or Moldovan governments.

NORINCO has been sanctioned by the United States previously. A State Department official dryly noted May 23 that the recent event marks “chapter 20 in an ongoing story.”

It is uncertain whether the Chinese activities triggering the sanctions took place before or after the Chinese government issued its new policy regulating missile and missile-related exports in August 2002. Beijing unveiled the new guidelines, which parallel those followed by the United States and the 32 other members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), after extensive prodding by Washington. MTCR members, which do not include China, pledge to restrict transfers of missiles and related technologies that could deliver a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue said May 27 that China has “strictly and effectively implemented” its new guidelines and that NORINCO has done nothing wrong.

A Central Intelligence Agency report released in April on proliferation activities during the first half of 2002 stated that Chinese firms provided Iran, as well as others, with “dual-use missile-related items, raw materials, and/or assistance” to their missile programs.

Last year, the United States levied sanctions on several Chinese companies it accused of chemical, biological, and missile proliferation. (See ACT, September 2002.)

On May 9, the United States imposed sanctions on a Chinese company, an Iranian firm, and Moldovan entities for what the State Department described as missile-proliferation activities. (Continue)

A Test for Beijing: China and the North Korean Nuclear Quandary

Bates Gill and Andrew Thompson

China’s late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, set the tone for much of China’s foreign policy in the 1990s when he cautioned Chinese strategists to “keep a low profile and avoid taking the lead.” For better or worse, this axiom has come to define China’s approach to the ominous North Korean nuclear quandary. Although China has significant interests in seeing a peaceful resolution to this troubling situation, it finds itself severely constrained from taking a more open and proactive approach with its neighbor. Moreover, for a range of complex reasons, Beijing’s near-term and strategic priorities differ in many respects from those of the United States, risking increased tensions with Washington over North Korea.

Faced with a host of difficult choices and with a predilection toward a reactive, wait-and-see approach, Beijing has urged caution, diplomacy, and abjuration of coercive measures. But as the standoff of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions becomes more intractable and threatening, Washington and others in the region will expect far more of China. Encouragingly, with the prospects for Washington-Pyongyang-Beijing talks, there are important signs of a more proactive but still low-profile Chinese role.

China’s Priorities

The United States and China share a common set of overarching goals vis-à-vis the Korean Peninsula: both wish to see a stable and non-nuclear North Korea that resolves differences peacefully and does not become a fulcrum for regional instabilities more broadly. Considering how to achieve those aims, however, and under what terms exposes divergent priorities and strategic preferences between Washington and Beijing. Put another way, while Washington and Beijing might have similar goals regarding Korean Peninsula security, their respective priorities are ordered differently.

North Korea’s geographic proximity and geostrategic importance require Chinese leaders to take a more comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing Pyongyang’s provocations. With North Korea on its doorstep, Beijing has to place Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions within a calculus of other, often more important concerns in Northeast Asia and on the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, all of its decisions—good, bad, or worse—carry more weight for China than for the United States. That alone explains much of Beijing’s uneasy caution about intervening in the crisis.

Further complicating the geostrategic picture for Beijing is the fact that the other major player in the ongoing North Korea dilemma—the United States—happens to be the world’s most powerful country and China’s single most important economic partner. Until Beijing clearly understands Washington’s policies and intentions toward North Korea and how China’s interests fit into that picture, it will be reluctant to take bold measures from which it cannot easily retreat, that might weaken its hand in the overall outcome of the current North Korea imbroglio, or that undermine a productive relationship with the United States.

Chinese strategists are sensitive to the Catch-22 problem they face in Washington: China is under pressure to exert its influence over North Korea and is criticized for not doing enough. On the other hand, although Beijing has quietly begun exerting pressure through oil-supply disruptions and closed-door diplomacy, it must be sensitive not to appear too eager to take the lead or too intent on marginalizing the U.S. presence on the peninsula. All the while, Washington has haltingly provided signals on the direction it wishes to go or whether it is prepared to support China’s efforts fully. From Beijing’s perspective, caution and circumspection seem warranted.

Until recently, Beijing had a particularly strong incentive to move slowly on any issue of major geopolitical importance. The current flare-up in the North Korean nuclear impasse has coincided precisely with the just-completed formal transition of power to the new “fourth generation” of leaders in Beijing—a period in which Chinese leaders were not prepared to make any bold moves. Until the new leadership becomes more firmly established and confident in foreign affairs, it is unlikely we will see bold moves in the near term, either.

China’s cooperation with U.S. policies toward North Korea will also be limited by the nearly equal priority it gives to maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula generally and in North Korea in particular. China will aim to prevent rapid changes of the political situation in Pyongyang that would lead to less-than-positive outcomes for Chinese strategic interests. Beijing is concerned with preventing economic or military crises that would lead to thousands of North Korean refugees fleeing across the 1,400-kilometer border into China. There are already an estimated 300,000 North Koreans illegally residing in China in addition to economic refugees continually crossing the border to seek opportunities in China, placing increasing pressure on an already burdened regional economy and posing challenges to central and regional authorities.

Destabilization in North Korea could lead to other scenarios contrary to Beijing’s interests, including the stirring of nationalist passions among China’s ethnic Korean population along the Jilin Province-North Korean border. From a broadly political perspective, Beijing cannot relish the prospect of yet another collapsed communist regime, especially one on its border with which it has traditionally close ties.

Instability and uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula also risks undermining Beijing’s carefully crafted and largely successful two-Korea policy, which aims to steadily assert and establish greater Chinese influence on the peninsula over time. In conducting its two-Korea policy, Beijing must attempt a balanced approach toward the North and South, keeping both within China’s good graces. Currently, it appears that Beijing, Seoul, and Pyongyang share a common interest in giving high priority to a more accommodating, negotiated resolution to tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and Beijing will not want to break up that consensus or force choices between one Korea or the other.

In addition, China has a particularly strong interest in avoiding disruptions in its beneficial economic relations with South Korea. China and South Korea are major trading partners with one another, and South Korea is a significant direct investor in China’s manufacturing sector, creating Chinese jobs, adding value both to Chinese and Korean raw materials, and contributing to China’s export revenues.

Of course, as noted above, Beijing will also want to avoid instabilities on the peninsula for fear of potential military conflict involving the United States—especially one that could potentially place U.S. and allied troops near China’s border or result in political outcomes on Washington’s terms that might be unfavorable to Beijing’s interests.

In seeking to avoid these kinds of instabilities on the Korean Peninsula and within North Korea itself, Beijing will abjure coercion, such as sanctions, embargoes, or the threat or use of military force. Beijing will much prefer a gradual change in North Korea, largely on Chinese terms, to include the introduction of Chinese-style economic and political reforms; the stabilization of North-South relations; and the eventual reconciliation of a stable, non-nuclear Korea within China’s sphere of influence.

The third and more narrow priority for China concerns the realization of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. China recognizes that a nuclear-armed North Korea presents a threat to regional stability and China’s long-term interests. Rather than seeing a direct threat aimed at China, however, Beijing’s concerns focus primarily on potential ripple effects throughout Northeast Asia in reaction to a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Chinese strategists and scientists recognize that North Korean nuclear ambitions might lead to a military strike by the United States, possibly leading to a wider military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, North Korea’s nuclear weapons development helps drive military modernization programs elsewhere in the region, most notably in Japan. Japan’s steps toward the development and deployment of missile defenses in cooperation with the United States are not viewed favorably in Beijing, especially to the degree those systems might someday strengthen Japanese and U.S.-Japan allied postures during a Taiwan-related confrontation with China.

More broadly, North Korean nuclear- and ballistic missile-related provocations strengthen the case for a more robust and ready Japanese defense and military modernization program, including a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance relationship and, in some circles, a discussion of a more offensive conventional and even nuclear capability—moves that are not in Beijing’s interests. As a recent editorial in a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper put it, if Japan were to go nuclear in response to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, “the negative impact for China would be greater than the sum of India, Pakistan, and North Korea having nuclear weapons.”1

Beijing is also concerned about the implications of North Korean nuclear weapons use and the possible export of nuclear materials to terrorists. Although there are few conceivable scenarios in which North Korea would use nuclear weapons against China, a nuclear exchange, or even the threat of one, between North Korea and the United States would have tremendously negative effects economically, politically, and in security terms for China. Finally, some Chinese analysts will concede that a nuclear North Korea could provide weapons or weapons-grade material to other countries or substate actors. However, this is not seen as a direct threat to China and is not given anywhere near the same degree of importance as in the United States. Moreover, all of these troubling nuclear weapons-related scenarios remain speculative for the moment in Beijing’s view and have yet to drive the narrow nuclear issue to a higher priority status in Chinese strategic perceptions toward the Korean Peninsula.

In sum, Beijing’s priorities with regard to North Korea and its nuclear ambitions derive from a complex and often contradictory mix of long-term geostrategic interests and near-term concerns over stability and proliferation. Beijing seeks to balance its long-term aims of asserting its interests and influence on the Korean Peninsula and maintaining productive relations with the United States on the one hand, while averting instabilities and a nuclear Korean Peninsula on the other. But rather than presenting a cogent and proactive framework for action, these priorities and interests do more to constrain Beijing’s self-perceived room to maneuver. China might wield the most influence in Pyongyang of the major powers concerned, but it is an influence that Beijing feels constrained from exercising fully without great risk. That stance, however, will become increasingly untenable if the North Korean situation evolves toward an even greater crisis.

China’s Policy Response

Faced with a complex and often contradictory situation, Beijing has steadfastly supported a fundamentally conservative and cautious return to the status quo ante, with a strong emphasis on a diplomatic solution, fearful that any precipitous action would only make a bad situation even worse. China’s publicly articulated approach stresses three elements: restart diplomacy and dialogue, avoid escalatory and provocative actions, and assure the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Behind closed doors, Beijing stepped up high-level discussions with Pyongyang and Washington, aimed at getting the parties together for dialogue within a mutually acceptable framework.

Reading between the lines of official Chinese policy reveals other important but less prominent elements to China’s approach. First, Beijing initially emphasized the importance of bilateral, face-to-face dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. China recognizes this as a core interest for North Korea and also sees merit in acting as an outside supporter of such dialogue and negotiation but not necessarily as a direct participant.

China, however, appears increasingly open to the possibility of multilateral talks. During the first phone conversation between President George W. Bush and newly appointed President Hu Jintao on March 18, Chinese official media quoted Hu as saying, “The key lies in launching some form of dialogue as soon as possible, especially dialogue between the United States and the DPRK.”2 The phrase “some form of dialogue” appeared to express support for multilateral dialogue and perhaps growing exasperation with North Korea’s insistence on bilateral talks. With the advent of trilateral discussions in Beijing at the end of April, Chinese leaders have taken their farthest step yet toward becoming fully invested partners in a multilateral approach to this issue, but still with some reticence.

Second, in advocating dialogue and the eschewal of provocative steps, Beijing expresses its opposition to applying coercive means such as sanctions or force against North Korea. This view is shared by others in the region, such as South Korea, Russia, and within some Japanese quarters.

Opposition to coercive measures is also Beijing’s diplomatic reminder to the United States to rein in its threatening posture toward North Korea, which, in the Chinese view, is in part responsible for Pyongyang’s belligerence. Many strategists in China point out that the Bush administration’s tougher approach toward North Korea—including Pyongyang in the “axis of evil,” considering nuclear pre-emption contingencies aimed at North Korea, and personalizing attacks against Kim Jong Il—only force North Korea’s back to the wall. In Beijing’s view, further tough rhetoric and escalatory actions by Washington would only lead to more provocative and potentially destabilizing responses by Pyongyang. If escalating confrontation leads to conflict, by design or miscalculation, China will resent U.S. insensitivity to its interests and its inability, as the world’s sole superpower, to chart and lead a negotiated solution.

Third, as signaled in the recent UN Security Council debate on North Korea, Beijing is reluctant to have the North Korean matter raised in that international forum. Beijing fears it could lose considerable influence over the situation if it becomes more “internationalized,” and the nuclear weapons issue—as opposed to the broader political and security issues that concern Beijing most—would be the focus of Security Council deliberations and resolutions.

On the surface, China’s overall position does not differ considerably from the 1993-1994 nuclear crisis in most respects. During the current situation, however, Beijing appears to be taking a slightly more proactive role, at least behind the scenes. This results from considerably changed circumstances from a decade ago. China believes it can play a more beneficial role as a mediator between the United States and North Korea because, of all the major powers to this dispute, Beijing has the best relations with both the United States and North Korea. Importantly, it is in a better position today to place some pressure on Pyongyang in particular and has much to gain with Washington if its efforts bear fruit in gaining greater cooperation from North Korea.

Finally, Beijing might be more concerned than in the past about the outbreak of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, whether brought on by Pyongyang or Washington, and has more to lose should it happen.

Looking Ahead

Given Beijing’s interests and responses thus far regarding the changing nuclear equation on the Korean Peninsula, a mixed picture emerges for U.S.-China relations on this issue. On the one hand, the two sides can fairly say they share common interests in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a peaceful resolution to the issue. Under the surface, however, a number of differences are apparent, and under certain conditions, these differences could increase in the months ahead.

Belatedly responding to the gravity of the situation, Beijing’s top leaders reportedly formed a leadership group on the North Korea crisis. China is increasingly displaying its irritation with Pyongyang through various channels, trying to gain greater cooperation from its recalcitrant neighbor. For example, while diplomatic traffic between Beijing has increased, Pyongyang’s officials are no longer given special treatment. China is also signaling to Pyongyang that it might consider curtailing economic and trade relations if stability is threatened on the peninsula. Importantly, Beijing appeared to play an instrumental role in bringing together the United States and North Korea for tripartite talks in China. Should matters go well, expectations will also be placed on China to offer up various forms of assistance and incentives to keep North Korean reform and compliance on track. Such inputs might include increased energy handouts and a stronger commitment on Beijing’s part to support intrusive verification measures and enforcement options.

If matters go badly, such as a costly conflict on the peninsula or the proliferation of nuclear materials from North Korea to U.S. adversaries, China might be seen as part of the problem. Unlike the current Iraq situation, the North Korea crisis should be of immediate strategic concern to Beijing, and the world will look to China to take an even more proactive and responsible position in assuring a peaceful outcome and the rollback of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs.

Interestingly, the Chinese term for “crisis”—weiji—combines characters denoting “danger” and “opportunity.” Fittingly, as Beijing grapples with the current North Korean crisis, China’s hopes for improved relations with Washington, a greater leadership role in the region, and a stable Korean Peninsula will be tested in momentous and difficult ways.


1. Ta Kung Pao, “DPRK ‘Crisis,’ Iraqi War Issue ‘Hot Topics’ at NPC, CPPCC Sessions in China,” March 5, 2003, found in FBIS.
2. Xinhua News Agency, “Hu Jintao Talks With U.S. President Bush Over the Phone,” March 18, 2003, found in BBC Monitoring.

Bates Gill is the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Andrew Thompson is a research associate in the same CSIS program.


CD Still Stalled by U.S., China Spat

Blocked by a continued diplomatic stalemate, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) ended the first third of its 2003 negotiating session March 28 without any progress.

Since completing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the conference only managed to initiate negotiations in 1998, and those negotiations yielded no final agreement. Sixty-six countries are members of the conference, which operates by consensus and is tasked with negotiating on arms control and disarmament issues.

The United States and China are the principal antagonists in the CD stalemate. The United States is pressing for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons purposes. While claiming to support FMCT negotiations, China demands that they do not begin without parallel negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space—a linkage the United States opposes.

On March 6, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi reiterated a proposal that the United States rejected last year. Hu said China would accept holding talks, not negotiations, on outer space if they were done “with a view to negotiating relevant international legal instrument.” But the United States, which argues that outer space negotiations are unnecessary, opposes this formulation, saying it prejudges the outcome of the talks.

Beijing and Washington will have two more work periods this year to reach an accommodation. The first will take place May 12 to June 27 and the other July 28 to September 10.

China Buying Russian Combat Jets

China will acquire a third batch of advanced Su-30MKK fighter jets from Russia in a deal initially reported in January. The precise details of the buy remain secret, but China is expected to receive roughly two to three dozen of the combat aircraft, which will be armed with anti-ship missiles.

U.S. government officials would not confirm the new deal, which was reported by the Russian press and a trade journal, Jane’s Defense Weekly. The reported buy adds to China’s two previous purchases of the aircraft, totaling 76 Su-30MKKs, in 1999 and 2001. Since 1991, China has received between 48 and 72 Russian Su-27 combat aircraft, and it reached a 1996 deal to co-produce another 200 Su-27s in China, which the Pentagon said in July 2002 is “proceeding, albeit very slowly.” The uncertainty surrounding the exact number of aircraft delivered reflects the secrecy with which Russia and China attempt to conduct their arms trade.

China is a leading buyer of Russian arms, signing deals not only for combat aircraft but also for four Sovremennyy-class destroyers, armed with potent supersonic, sea-skimming anti-ship missiles, and four Kilo-class submarines in recent years. In its annual submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, Moscow has reported exporting 104 combat aircraft, five attack helicopters, six warships, and 431 missiles and missile launchers to China between 1992 and 2001.

In a July 2002 report on Chinese military power, the Pentagon noted that Beijing is edging closer to Taiwan in terms of advanced, “fourth-generation” combat aircraft through China’s purchase of Russian fighters. Taiwan is estimated to have more than 300 fourth-generation fighters, including approximately 150 U.S. F-16A/B fighters, whereas China currently possesses around 100 modern combat aircraft.

Shirley Kan, a national security policy specialist at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said in a February 21 interview that she could not verify that the reported deal had been finalized, but she added that China has accelerated its military modernization effort, raising serious questions about continued stability in the Taiwan Strait and Beijing’s interest in reducing tensions with Taiwan.

Israeli Arms Exports to China of Growing Concern to U.S.

Wade Boese

The United States has reportedly increased pressure on Israel about its arms sales to China, and Israel has given assurances that it will not export any item that could harm U.S. security, according to U.S. and Israeli officials in January.

U.S. concerns about Israeli arms sales to China have existed for more than a decade and came to a head in July 2000 when the United States persuaded Israel to cancel the sale of the Phalcon, an advanced, airborne early-warning system, to China. Afterward, U.S.-Israeli differences over arms sales to China publicly receded but resurfaced in early January when the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the United States had recently asked Israel to end all arms sales to China.

U.S. and Israeli officials have not publicly confirmed whether the United States made such a request, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested that the Israeli-Chinese arms trade is a continuing problem. He said January 2 that it is an “ongoing subject of discussion” between the United States and Israel. He further stated that the subject “comes up regularly” and there is a “need for any suppliers of weaponry to be considerate and concerned about the strategic situation in a region that’s of great sensitivity and importance to us.” The United States is a strong supporter of Taiwan, which Beijing is seeking to reunify with the Chinese mainland.

China, according to the Associated Press, issued a written statement January 3 declaring, “No country has the right to interfere in the developing military trade cooperation between China and Israel.”

When asked whether Israel had halted all arms sales to China, a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Ministry replied January 8, “Defense relations between Israel and China require from time to time consideration of specific issues. This revision [sic] is conducted vis-à-vis China and on concrete issues also vis-à-vis the U.S., bearing in mind American sensitivity.”

Another Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous, explained in an interview January 8 that Israel is committed to refraining from exports that would harm U.S. security. The official suggested, however, that Israel would continue to sell some military equipment to China that is readily available on the global arms market.

One nongovernmental expert in Washington familiar with the issue, who also wished to remain anonymous, said his impression is that the United States is seeking to curtail Israeli arms sales to China to the greatest extent possible, while Israel is seeking minimum restraint on its exports.

The largest recipient of U.S. aid, Israel first approached China about possible arms deals in 1979, reportedly hoping to win some Chinese restraint in arms sales to Israel’s neighbors and enemies.

The United States has reportedly increased pressure on Israel about its arms sales to China, and Israel has given assurances that it will not export any item that could harm U.S. security...

How U.S. Strategic Policy Is Changing China’s Nuclear Plans

Joanne Tompkins

The extent to which U.S. policy influences China’s strategic decision-making, especially its ongoing nuclear modernization, has been a matter of much debate. But in the past year, the Bush administration has made several significant changes to arms control and nuclear weapons policy that provide an opportunity to gauge Chinese reaction to U.S. plans. During 2002, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; it signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia (also known as the Moscow Treaty); it finalized a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR); and it pushed ahead with plans for a national missile defense, culminating in President George W. Bush’s December announcement that the United States would deploy a rudimentary system in 2004.

Each of these decisions signaled that the Bush administration is rethinking the role of nuclear weapons in its broader strategic policies. Experts on U.S.-China relations have argued that, by doing so, the Bush administration is encouraging China to rethink its own approach to nuclear weapons, potentially diminishing its interest in international agreements and perhaps even sparking an arms race.1 With only two dozen nuclear-armed ICBMs capable of hitting the United States and an official policy of not using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, China’s current nuclear posture is considerably weaker than the U.S. posture. But some analysts have speculated that that could change if U.S. policy threatens mainland China or upsets the situation in the Taiwan Strait.

This article is based on more than 60 not-for-attribution interviews with Chinese government officials, arms control experts, military officers, and journalists conducted during the summer of 2002. Their comments clearly indicate that, although the Moscow Treaty and the NPR have not had a significant impact on Chinese thinking about nuclear weapons, U.S. missile defense plans (and the associated withdrawal from the ABM Treaty) could substantially influence China’s ongoing plans to modernize and expand its nuclear forces.

Approach to Nuclear Weapons

The Chinese are quick to assert that they decided to acquire nuclear weapons only as a response to repeated U.S. and Soviet attempts to blackmail China with the possibility of nuclear attack in the 1950s and 1960s. Under Mao Zedong, China realized that a nuclear retaliatory capability was needed to maintain freedom of action in the face of nuclear threats. China assumes that the U.S. fear of nuclear retaliation is an overarching threat that controls Washington’s actions with regard to China and Taiwan. This reactive, or defensive, philosophy underpins the Chinese approach to nuclear planning and force structure.

The Chinese, however, draw a distinction between “Western deterrence” and their policy of nuclear retaliation. One scholar at a university in Shanghai explained that this is partially due to the aggressive meaning of the Chinese characters used to translate the word “deterrence.” China sees its policy as purely defensive and seeks to convey this with its promise never to attack another state first with nuclear weapons. China maintains that its nuclear forces are to be used in retaliation only, and this no-first-use policy is a core tenet of China’s nuclear strategy. Although it can be argued that Beijing could easily reverse its no-first-use policy during a crisis, the vast majority of scholars and officials interviewed rejected the possibility of ever abandoning the pledge because they feel it gives China a great deal of political capital within the international community. China’s retaliatory doctrine is demonstrated by the small size of its nuclear force, which would be most effectively used against enemy cities—a threat that the Chinese believe would prevent any American president from launching nuclear weapons at China.

Uncertainty about the size and placement of China’s nuclear arsenal is considered critical to the effectiveness of this retaliatory policy. China has never officially acknowledged how many nuclear weapons it has. Most Chinese scholars interviewed cited Western reports that China has approximately 24 ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, while other scholars cited possibly 40 and, in one case, as many as 250 Chinese missiles. Without a firm idea of exactly how large the Chinese arsenal is or where the ICBMs are located, the United States could never be confident of launching a successful first strike that eliminated the threat of a Chinese retaliatory attack. The Chinese believe this uncertainty compensates for the vast disparity in the U.S. and Chinese nuclear arsenals and creates what Chinese scholars called a “stable unbalanced nuclear relationship.”

China is, however, modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal. The majority of those interviewed emphasized that China is not trying to acquire an offensive capability. Rather, they contend that China must make some basic improvements to its obsolete weapons in order simply to maintain the current nuclear balance—a natural modernization of military capabilities. Many in China believe that the West is overreacting to the program, mistakenly interpreting it as an attempt to reach parity with the United States. The nuclear force modernization effort, they say, is focused simply on improving the quality and survivability of these weapons.

Chinese experts repeatedly identified developing a mobile missile force as the primary way China could improve the survivability of its nuclear arsenal, since China’s current silo-based force is considered to be vulnerable to U.S. attack. Most Chinese scholars believe that building sea-based missiles is the most effective approach to mobilizing their weapons. One arms control expert in Shanghai envisioned a fleet of six nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles. (There was no discussion or acknowledgment of the difficulties China has encountered in the past in trying to build or deploy nuclear submarines.) Some experts also advocated putting multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on Chinese missiles, although there seems to be some debate in China over what “MIRV” actually means. One influential arms control expert in Beijing argued that most national security experts in China are not really talking about putting multiple warheads on the missiles; rather, they are misusing the term MIRV to refer to missiles with multiple decoys but only one warhead. There are other areas in need of significant improvement as well, including China’s command and control infrastructure, which is almost 20 years out of date.

Although these and other modernization efforts will modestly increase the number of missiles in the Chinese inventory as well as the survivability and reliability of China’s nuclear arsenal, they will not, Chinese analysts say, lead to an arms race. Many Chinese scholars claimed that China has no interest in seeking nuclear parity with the United States—a pursuit that they feel would endanger the economic growth of the country.

Pressures to Change

Changes in the current global security environment could, however, significantly alter the scope and direction of China’s nuclear efforts. There are some specific developments over the past year that caught the attention of Chinese experts: the signing of the Moscow Treaty and the demise of the ABM Treaty, the release of the latest U.S. NPR, and the U.S. national missile defense program.2

Arms Control Developments
The arms control communities in Shanghai and Beijing have decidedly split opinions on the value of the May 2002 Moscow Treaty, but neither feels that the agreement significantly affects Chinese security. Experts in Shanghai, who tend to be less tied to the official government line than their Beijing counterparts, have a fairly positive opinion of the treaty, which reduces U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed warheads. They think that Russian President Vladimir Putin successfully negotiated from a weaker position, trading Russian acquiescence on the ABM Treaty for a formal accord that offered Russia a much-needed reduction in its nuclear arsenal, as well as a way out of START II. The Moscow Treaty perpetuates the nuclear balance between the United States and Russia (in the eyes of the international community, if not in reality), allows Russia to keep its MIRVed missiles (which START II banned and which Moscow could not have afforded to replace), and maintains the perception that Russia continues to be strategically relevant.

The Beijing arms control community, on the other hand, has a pessimistic attitude toward the Moscow Treaty. Although Beijing analysts acknowledged that any disarmament is a good thing, many dismiss this treaty as merely symbolic and without substance. According to the Beijing experts, the Moscow Treaty does not reduce nuclear forces, it merely rearranges them. Russia cannot afford to deploy more than 2,000 warheads anyway, and the United States is avoiding any real cuts in its arsenal by counting only “operationally deployed” warheads and storing many of the others. Beijing experts believe that both the United States and Russia lost with this treaty—Russia because the United States does not have to destroy any warheads, and the United States because the treaty’s lack of verification mechanisms means it will be much harder to track Russian nuclear material.

The U.S. decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty was opposed but not unexpected in China. By withdrawing, many Chinese security analysts argued, the United States has taken a destabilizing action—an aggressive, layered missile defense program will encourage regional arms races. Other nations will not be able to give up their missiles in the face of a U.S. ballistic missile shield. The Chinese further argued that withdrawal is another sign that the United States will ignore any troublesome international arms control agreements in the pursuit of a narrowly defined national security (as previously illustrated by its failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). The Beijing community is particularly concerned that the demise of the ABM Treaty opens the way to the weaponization of space. Indeed, some analysts in this group believe that this—and not the missile defense program—is the real reason President Bush withdrew from the treaty.

Yet, despite strong early objections, China’s reaction to the official withdrawal was unexpectedly mild. In the end, the Chinese were realists. According to intellectuals in Shanghai, China’s overall approach to international arms control is very much shaped by the belief that it is important to conform with international opinion. One influential analyst in Beijing argued that China does not think it is strong enough to confront other, more powerful countries: since China is dependent on the help of other nations to build up its economy, it must conform to the will of the international community to avoid harming its overall interests. This results in a “follower” mindset in the Chinese approach to international arms control, according to the experts interviewed. Once Russia and the European nations abandoned their objections to the program, China had no choice but to follow.

Nevertheless, the Chinese continue to argue that the withdrawal will have a negative impact in the long term and that the United States should not view this issue as settled. There is an expectation that Putin is merely buying time to recover and that Russia will renew its opposition to the U.S. missile defense program down the road. The Chinese believe that Russia’s withdrawal from START II is only the beginning of the fallout from the international community.

The Nuclear Posture Review
Not surprisingly, the Chinese had a very negative reaction to the U.S. NPR, which was officially presented by the Bush administration in January 2002. Even though many Chinese believe that the NPR was not representative of official U.S. doctrine, they are disturbed because the document directly contradicts several tenets that are strongly held in the Chinese security community: that nuclear weapons are becoming less relevant in the modern world; that nuclear weapons can never be used; and that a conflict with the United States over Taiwan would not involve nuclear weapons.3 Chinese analysts are particularly focused on two sections of the NPR: the specific mention of the conditions for the use of nuclear weapons over a conflict in the Taiwan Strait and the possible pursuit of earth-penetrating tactical nuclear weapons.

Portions of the NPR that were leaked to the press in March 2002 indicated not only that the United States is prepared to use nuclear weapons against China, but also that the United States would consider the use of nuclear weapons during a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.4 Experts in China were not surprised that their country is reportedly on the U.S. nuclear target list, acknowledging that this has been the case for many years (despite Chinese Foreign Ministry claims of being “deeply shocked”). The reference to the Taiwan Strait, however, did surprise them. Many argued that the United States is again attempting to blackmail China with nuclear threats. The Chinese are increasingly worried about the Bush administration’s Taiwan policy, which they believe could encourage Taipei to declare independence. They fear that, if American rhetoric and arms sales give Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian a false sense of security, a conflict in the strait is more likely.

The Chinese also feel that the NPR is raising the profile of nuclear weapons by giving them new war-fighting roles and by proposing new types of weapons. Chinese analysts in both Beijing and Shanghai vigorously objected to the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons to attack deeply buried or hardened targets, as suggested by the NPR. Placing nuclear weapons in a conventional role, several senior Chinese arms control experts in Beijing argued, would lower the threshold for their use and blur the distinction between conventional and strategic weapons. It would become easier to think about fighting and possibly winning a nuclear war, and nuclear conflict would therefore become more likely. The call for new types of and uses for nuclear weapons has also opened a new debate in China about the possibility of a U.S. attack with low-yield nuclear weapons in a conflict over Taiwan. Most experts agreed that any use of a nuclear weapon in the strait, no matter how small, would trigger a nuclear response by China.

The new U.S. emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons also indicates to many Chinese experts that the Americans are considering restarting their nuclear tests. Several experts in Shanghai warned that, if the United States were to conduct nuclear tests, then China, which has yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, would have no choice but to follow the U.S. example.

Finally, the NPR is also forcing Chinese strategic thinkers to look at their response to conventional attack on the Chinese mainland. Currently, the consensus in China is that conventional attacks, no matter how destructive, would not trigger a nuclear response. But a small community of experts, primarily located at universities and think tanks in Shanghai, is beginning to argue that China must have more flexibility in the face of overwhelming U.S. military power. Some argue that China should abandon its no-first-use pledge if China’s national security is seriously threatened, no matter the means.

Whether China used nuclear weapons would depend on the nature of the U.S. attack. According to a security analyst in Beijing, a conventional attack against Chinese cities likely would not trigger a nuclear response, unless Beijing and Shanghai were attacked. Those cities are critical to China’s security, and an overwhelming conventional attack on either one might justify a nuclear response. Advocates of nuclear flexibility also hold that any conventional attack against Chinese nuclear facilities or its command and control capabilities could also invite nuclear retaliation. This extreme view has so far not gained a large following, and many think it unlikely that the United States would ever attack the mainland, even in a conflict over Taiwan, but the debate is underway.

Missile Defense
Beyond question, the U.S. missile defense program is having a significant impact on the internal Chinese debate regarding nuclear modernization. It is important to note, however, that Chinese experts do not know the ultimate size and capabilities of a U.S. national missile defense, and several analysts argued that it is not possible for China to formulate a response until there is a clearer picture of what sort of system the Bush administration will develop. The president’s deployment decision in December provides the Chinese with better insight into the current approach, but during the past summer most discussions of missile defense cited the Clinton system of 100 interceptors as the basis for analysis.

The Chinese government has consistently argued that the U.S. pursuit of ballistic missile defenses undermines global strategic stability by making all other nations insecure. With a successful national missile defense, the United States could become the first nuclear state to be able to protect itself from retaliation in kind—at least from the smaller nuclear states. Several Chinese intellectuals argued that this would give the United States greater freedom of action and a false sense of security that could encourage it to mount pre-emptive attacks. They argue that other nations will be forced to build up their nuclear and missile arsenals to counter the proposed U.S. shield, which will in turn spark regional arms races.

Most importantly, though, even the previously expected minimal system of 100 interceptors would negate the Chinese nuclear deterrent and render it vulnerable to nuclear attack—an unacceptable development that would reopen China to nuclear blackmail. Very few Chinese scholars interviewed believe U.S. assurances that the missile defense system is not aimed at China. At best, they maintain, this is merely a declaratory policy that can be reversed at will. The capability to intercept Chinese missiles will be inherent in any deployed system.

The Chinese are also concerned about the possible deployment of theater missile defenses on Taiwan. China’s missile deployments along the Fujian Coast opposite Taiwan serve, Chinese experts contend, as the only effective deterrent against Taiwanese independence. Any move to negate this deterrent would be viewed as extremely provocative. Even if missile defense could not effectively defend the island, as many in China believe it cannot, deployment of advanced missile defense systems requires an integrated command and control system that in Chinese eyes would equal a de facto military alliance. Chinese experts said this would be a definite violation of China’s sovereignty and would prompt a faster buildup of both conventional and nuclear weapons on the mainland.

Finally, there are indications that missile defense is also prompting some among China’s senior leadership to address the contradiction of denying deterrence as an acceptable strategic concept while relying on nuclear weapons to deter an attack. A Chinese scholar who has studied the Chinese understanding of Western deterrence asserted that the U.S. national missile defense system is prompting senior leaders in China to pay more attention to the Western concept of deterrence, issues of credibility, and the gap between U.S. and Chinese military capabilities. Significantly, the Chinese government has stopped criticizing the term “deterrence,” which hints at a new willingness to re-examine the concept.

All of these concerns are encouraging debate on how to respond to missile defense. A clear consensus exists in China that, although U.S. missile defense plans did not inspire the original modernization effort, they definitely will influence the size of the Chinese nuclear arsenal. The extent of this influence is a point of considerable debate. The majority of Chinese scholars interviewed argued that the missile defense program is a trick to convince China to spend more money on defense, thereby causing the growing economy to collapse. They see significant parallels between China’s current situation and the Soviet overreaction to President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program, which contributed to the downfall of the U.S.S.R. The Chinese say they will not make the same mistake. Also, there are a significant number of scholars in China who argue that missile defense simply will not work. The current U.S. testing program is structured in such a way, they say, as to favor success—it does not simulate realistic scenarios. These criticisms could moderate the Chinese reaction.

There are three schools of thought regarding improvements needed to respond to a U.S. missile defense program. The first school, comprised of a small community of intellectuals and some military officers, argues that, because missile defense is merely a devious ploy, China should not alter its nuclear posture whatsoever. This school feels that China should not redirect valuable resources to counter a missile defense system that will never work. There is also an expectation that the next U.S. president will most likely cancel the missile defense program. China instead needs to keep its focus on economic development. This group is not large and does not seem to have a particularly vocal presence in the debate.

Another small group of scholars, based in Shanghai, advocates a robust response to missile defense. This second school believes that the Chinese economy can absorb a buildup to as many as 1,000 ICBMs. China’s rapid economic growth is only increasing the revenues that could be spent on nuclear weapons development and modernization. Building to saturation of the missile defense (and beyond) is viewed as a reliable method to defeat the planned shield that would not require any further weapons testing. These scholars also argue that China should seriously consider abandoning its no-first-use policy, which only further undermines its already weak nuclear posture. This approach reportedly has gained the support of many in the military, but there are no indications that it has broader support throughout the government. A major buildup would represent a radical departure from past Chinese policy, and the majority of those interviewed dismissed it as unlikely.

The third school, which reflects the majority view, believes that the U.S. missile defense program requires a response, but a more moderate one. This centrist group encompasses a broad spectrum of professionals, including arms control experts, members of the media, academics, government officials, and military officers. China, they feel, cannot stand idly by while the United States develops a system to negate its retaliatory capability. They firmly believe that China needs to maintain a credible minimal deterrent to control the Taiwan situation. This group sees no reason to panic, however. Its members believe that missile defense will not pose a serious threat until at least 2008, allowing China time to wait and see before pursuing a more aggressive response. They argue that China should carefully monitor the direction of the Bush program and take some preliminary steps now to counter it.

The moderate response would focus on three courses of action. First, China should increase the total number of warheads deployed to a level just beyond the saturation point for whatever missile shield the United States plans to deploy in order to maintain the required uncertainty about retaliation. This means that China must have a clear idea of how many interceptors are planned and what the firing doctrine will be, which is currently impossible because the Americans themselves do not yet know what the system will comprise. This “moderate” level of buildup, however, allows for a lot of leeway as long as it does not adversely impact China’s economy. Several experts said that building to 100 or even 200 missiles would be considered reasonable—a step that would represent a significant increase in Chinese nuclear capability. Second, this school advocates China’s pursuit of MIRVs, which would be more effective at penetrating a ballistic missile shield. Finally, countermeasures are gaining a lot of attention among Chinese analysts, several of whom believe the government has already started developing them. The Chinese are very confident that countermeasures can be successfully employed against a U.S. missile defense. They point out that the United States will have to devise methods to defeat a whole range of countermeasures, while those wishing to penetrate the system must only find one countermeasure that works. Effective countermeasures may mean that China can build fewer warheads to maintain its retaliatory nuclear capability. By pursuing these options, the moderate school believes China can maintain the status quo: a stable if asymmetric nuclear relationship with the United States.


It is obvious from the research gathered during these interviews that the U.S. missile defense program will have the largest impact on Chinese thinking about nuclear weapons. Any adjustment in reaction to the Moscow Treaty was routinely rejected by the Chinese because even 1,700 U.S. warheads would overwhelm the Chinese deterrent, and China cannot afford to build to parity with such a high number. Therefore, few in China expect it to have any impact on the modernization effort. The dismissal of the impact of the NPR is primarily due to a Chinese assumption that any war with the United States over Taiwan will not escalate to nuclear war, despite the language in the NPR. There is a firm belief that civilized nations would not take this step and that the American public would not support launching nuclear weapons against China. Therefore, the NPR is, in the view of many Chinese scholars, simply another Pentagon “think piece” that will not be implemented as policy. The subsequent publication of the new U.S. National Security Strategy, which incorporated some elements from the NPR, may change this view slightly, but it is unlikely to prompt the Chinese to make any substantial changes to their nuclear planning at this time.

Missile defense is another story, and the majority of Chinese interviewed for this study have clearly concluded that missile defense poses a significant threat to their nuclear deterrent. They made it clear that China will increase the size of its nuclear arsenal in response to missile defense; the group advocating a moderate response to U.S. missile defense represents the dominant view in China. At the same time, the prevailing opinion is that China should not panic and overreact. An extreme missile buildup is unlikely given the conviction in China that the United States is trying to trick the Chinese government into spending itself into a collapse. This concern will restrain the scope and acceleration of China’s modernization program. Even a “moderate buildup,” however, could result in the Chinese ICBM force growing to 5 or 10 times its current size.

It is important to note that the public debate in China regarding the role of nuclear weapons remains relatively immature. The study of specific nuclear doctrine is a limited field; most scholars prefer to focus on the broader implications of nuclear questions for the U.S.-China relationship, rather than focus on specific details. This can result in a rather surface-level discussion. There are contradictions in the Chinese conceptualization of the role and uses of nuclear weapons that indicate the broader security community in China has not had a truly robust discussion of these issues. It remains to be seen if President Bush’s December deployment decision will change this, but the current confusion and uncertainty may prevent U.S. experts from drawing concrete conclusions about China’s nuclear modernization for some time.

The United States may be able to clarify China’s position by altering its own rhetoric. It is very clear to most in China that the proposed U.S. missile defense system will adversely impact their nuclear force, despite American assurances that the system is not aimed at them. A U.S. acknowledgment that missile defense could negate China’s deterrent and significantly affect its nuclear decision-making could make it possible for the two countries to have a true strategic dialogue. That, in turn, could provide the United States greater insights into China’s goals for modernization.

1. See Senator Joseph Biden, “Missile Defense Delusion,” The Washington Post, December 19, 2001; Evan S. Medeiros and Jing-dong Yuan, “The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and China’s Responses,” http://www.cns.miis.edu/pubs/week/020401.htm; the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Position Paper on National Missile Defense,” www.ucsusa.org.
2. Notably, the recent escalation of nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan did not seem to have much impact on Chinese analysts’ thinking. The possibility of a nuclear exchange on China’s border was surprisingly dismissed as having little impact on Chinese nuclear planning. Only one intellectual in Beijing stated that China is worried about India surpassing the size of the Chinese arsenal. Although the Chinese readily acknowledge that nuclear tensions on the subcontinent are a concern, the majority believes that there is no need to change China’s nuclear posture in response.
3. Critics of China frequently point to the famous statement by Chinese General Xiong Guangkai that the United States would not trade Los Angeles for Taipei as an example of China’s willingness to use nuclear weapons against the United States, particularly due to tensions concerning Taiwan. This quote is widely dismissed by experts in China as a misunderstanding. Several interviewees firmly believe that the general never made the comment at all, and others maintain that the statement has been taken out of context and the meaning has been twisted. No one thought that the statement was indicative of China’s intention to launch its nuclear weapons over issues surrounding Taiwan.
4. See William M. Arkin, “Secret Plan Outlines the Unthinkable,” The Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2002; Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Nuclear Plan Sees New Weapons and New Targets,” The New York Times, March 10, 2002. For China’s official reaction, see “China ‘Deeply Shocked’ Over Pentagon Secret Report: FM Spokesman,” March 11, 2002, available at http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/26489.html.

Joanne Tompkins is a senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy. She conducted the research for this article while she was the Henry L. Stimson Center’s fellow in China during the summer of 2002.

Countries Agree to Negotiate on Explosive Remnants of War

Wade Boese

States-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed December 13 to negotiations on addressing the dangers posed by unexploded munitions on the battlefield and to continue discussing possible limits on anti-vehicle mines.

Opened for signature in 1981, the CCW is designed to prohibit or limit the use of weapons deemed to be “excessively injurious” and those that are indiscriminate and could kill or injure noncombatants. The convention, which now numbers 90 states-parties, is comprised of four separate protocols that ban or restrict the use of nondetectable fragment weapons; incendiary weapons; blinding lasers; and mines, booby traps, and other devices.

CCW states-parties, including the United States, met in Geneva December 12-13 to hear reports by two working groups of governmental experts established in December 2001 to explore the issues of explosive remnants of war and mines other than anti-personnel mines—essentially anti-vehicle mines. The states-parties then approved the two groups’ recommendations, which called for negotiation of an “instrument” on explosive remnants of war and further exploration of the mines issue.

Precisely what type of arrangement will be negotiated to address explosive remnants of war remains unclear. The states-parties used the word “instrument,” which to the United States indicates that the final product will not be legally binding. Other countries disagree, claiming that the states-parties have agreed to negotiate a “protocol,” which would be legally binding. Among these other countries are ones that desire bans on specific weapons, such as cluster munitions—a step the United States strongly opposes.

The negotiations will focus on preventive and post-conflict remedial measures. These measures could include improving self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms on weapons, warnings to civilians, the supply of information and equipment for handling and destroying unexploded munitions, and clearance responsibilities.

China questioned the feasibility of making self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms better, arguing that not all countries have the economic and technological capacity to carry out such work. Instead, China suggested that efforts should be dedicated to establishing a principle of user’s responsibility for clearance and to improve the reliability of munitions.

Joined by Russia, India, and Pakistan, China continued to oppose a past U.S.-Danish proposal to negotiate a new CCW protocol restricting the use of anti-vehicle mines, although its position slightly softened over the past 12 months. In December 2001, Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang contended that there was “no evidence” that anti-vehicle mines “led to serious humanitarian problems”; but at the latest meeting, Sha said, “We do not deny that [anti-vehicle mines have] caused certain humanitarian problems.”

Nevertheless, Sha added that mines were “effective defensive weapons” and that no further work needed to be done, claiming that the existing CCW protocol on mines was sufficient. Yet, he said that China recognized the interest of other countries to explore the issue and that Beijing would “show flexibility” to allow the discussions to continue.

The explosive remnants of war negotiations and the continued discussions on mines will again be carried out by two separate groups of governmental experts in three 2003 sessions scheduled for March 10-14, June 16-27, and November 17-24. CCW states-parties will then meet November 27-28 to review the experts’ work and, if necessary, decide on future action.

States-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed December 13 to negotiations on addressing the dangers posed by unexploded...

China Issues Chem-Bio Export Control Laws

China issued a new biological export control law October 14 and a new chemical export control law October 18 in an effort to curb proliferation of agents and related equipment that could be used to develop chemical and biological weapons. The announcement of the new laws coincided with meetings between high-level Chinese and U.S. officials.

The law to control chemical exports will take effect November 19, followed by the biological export control law on December 1. Under both laws, companies must acquire a license from the government before exporting items specified on export control lists, which include dual-use biological and chemical agents and equipment. Chinese authorities can deny or approve items for export. The regulations also state penalties—including potential revocation of “licensing for their foreign trade operations”—for entities that export items on the lists without a license, lie on a license application, or otherwise violate the law.

In addition to the new export control laws, China revised regulations that were first implemented in 1998 to control the export of various military goods, including military equipment and “technologies and services for military purposes,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The revised regulations will take effect November 15.

The biological and chemical export control laws were passed just before and during an October 18 visit by Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to meet with Chinese officials and shortly before Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited President George W. Bush in Texas October 25.

In August, China published export control regulations for missile-related equipment and technology, following numerous talks in which U.S. officials pressured the country to issue the export controls. (See ACT, September 2002.)

China Issues Missile Export Controls

September 2002

By Rose Gordon

The long-awaited missile export controls that Beijing committed to publishing almost two years ago were released by China’s official Xinhua News Agency on August 25.

Following months of nonproliferation talks with the United States, China had agreed on November 21, 2000, not to help states develop “ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.” It defined such missiles as those capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers, guidelines that mirror those in the Missile Technology Control Regime, of which China is not a member. To make its pledge more concrete, China said it would issue “at an early date” a “comprehensive” list of missile-related and dual-use items whose export would require a government license.

As of August, however, China had still not issued the export control list despite repeated requests from Washington to do so. In fact, the United States maintained that China was continuing to export missile components and technology in direct violation of the November 2000 agreement. In a July 2002 report to Congress, the U.S.-China Security Review Commission cited China as “a leading international source of missile-related technologies” and warned of its proliferation activities with “terrorist-sponsoring and other states…particularly in the Middle East and Asia.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan, who in July dismissed U.S. reports on the threat of Chinese missile and weapons of mass destruction proliferation as groundless, said August 25 that China has always been committed to responsible export control and “will continue to take an active part in the international cooperation in nonproliferation.”

The controls came in the form of a 24-article regulation requiring entities to obtain a government license before exporting ballistic and cruise missiles, rockets, and unmanned air vehicles, and related delivery systems and technologies that are listed on a “control list,” which Beijing also released. In addition, the receiving party must guarantee that the transferred items will not be used in any manner other than that declared to the Chinese government.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the new controls a “potentially important step” but added that “the real measure of China’s control over missile-related exports will be the effectiveness with which controls like these are enforced and a real reduction in problematic exports by Chinese entities.”

The Xinhua News Agency reported that Premier Zhu Rongji signed the regulations into effect August 22, three days before the arrival of Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, in Beijing. Armitage’s discussions with top Chinese officials included preparations for President Jiang Zemin’s visit to the United States in October to meet with President Bush.

China Issues Missile Export Controls

China Reportedly Tests Air-to-Air Missile

In late June, China test-fired Russian-made AA-12 Adder missiles, also known as the R-77, for the first time, according to a July 1 Washington Times article. Acquisition and deployment of these advanced dog-fighting missiles would give Chinese fighter aircraft the capability of attacking targets from a distance of at least 50 kilometers.

The United States sold Taiwan a comparable U.S. missile, the AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), in September 2000 but conditioned its delivery to Taiwan on another country in the region getting a similar missile first. A State Department spokesperson interviewed August 26 would not say whether the U.S. government would now be delivering the 200 AMRAAMs to Taiwan, commenting only that the United States intends to fulfill the terms of its contract. A Pentagon spokesperson gave a similar line, but also pointed out that the AMRAAMs for Taiwan have not been built yet.

According to a July 12 Pentagon report, a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait is the “primary driver” behind China’s military modernization and arms acquisitions. The report declared that Chinese offensive capabilities are improving annually, increasing Beijing’s “number of credible options to intimidate or actually attack Taiwan.”

China has also recently negotiated with Russia, its main arms supplier, to buy eight diesel-electric Kilo-class attack submarines, adding to the four it has already acquired. This recent deal mirrors a U.S. offer in April 2001 to provide Taiwan with eight diesel-powered submarines, although that deal is currently stalled. Washington and Taipei have yet to determine whether Taiwan can actually afford the submarines, and they also need to find a manufacturer because the United States builds only nuclear-powered submarines.


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