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Can China's Tolerance Last?

Bates Gill

Many observers seemed surprised by China’s muted reaction to the Bush administration’s December 13 announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. But analysts should not have been surprised. Since early 2001, Beijing had steadily toned down its anti-missile defense rhetoric and over the past year had gradually come to tolerate—while still opposing—the U.S. missile shield effort. The ability of the United States and China to keep a lid on heated and damaging rhetoric opens the door to a more serious dialogue that, if carefully managed, may help avert undesirable outcomes arising from the changing strategic nuclear dynamic between them.

With the ABM Treaty withdrawal announcement past, the questions are, how did China come to this more subdued position, and can it last?

Toning Down the Rhetoric

China’s official response to the ABM Treaty withdrawal was moderate—in many ways even more conciliatory than Moscow’s reaction. It consisted of four main points. First, Beijing maintained its opposition to the buildup of strategic missile defenses by the United States. Second, official Chinese statements noted that the ABM Treaty has served as a cornerstone of strategic stability and that its abandonment risks a destabilizing arms race. Third, Beijing urged Washington to take heed of the international community’s views on this issue, pointing to the November 29 United Nations General Assembly resolution which for the third year in a row called for the strengthening and preservation of the treaty. Finally—an indication of China’s concern with “high politics” and “atmospherics”—the official Chinese statements emphasized the important international role of the United States and China, which share common interests in maintaining global peace and which should find solutions to their differences through constructive dialogue.

It was left to the Foreign Ministry spokesman to issue the “toughest” language, expressing “regret” and “concern” over “worrisome” developments. Although China among the nuclear powers stands to lose the most in the face of U.S. missile defenses, its leaders did not even go so far as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who characterized the ABM Treaty withdrawal decision as a “mistake.” Instead, Chinese President Jiang Zemin took the high ground in his officially released statements, expressing China’s willingness “to work with other countries to make efforts to safeguard world peace and stability.”

The basis for this relatively gentle response had been laid over many months. Beginning in late 2000 and accelerating in early 2001, official and unofficial U.S. interlocutors had sent clear messages to their Chinese counterparts about the likely direction of missile defense plans in the United States, especially with the arrival of the Bush administration in Washington. These messages included the point that, although Beijing was in no position to veto U.S. missile defense plans, Chinese policies and practices—positive or negative—would have some impact on how missile defense affected the U.S.-China relationship.

As for the Chinese side, the outlines of a more “friendly” Chinese approach toward the United States were already in evidence in early 2001, with a more serious, nuanced, and flexible understanding of missile defenses a part of that overall change in tone. During exchanges in the early part of 2001, Chinese strategists identified a number of steps they hoped the United States would take as a way of gaining greater Chinese acquiescence regarding U.S. missile defense plans. In essence, the Chinese response to the ABM Treaty decision was muted because the Bush administration has taken a number of these steps.

First and foremost, the Chinese needed reassurances about the tenor and direction of U.S.-China relations overall and about the intended “targets” of the missile defense system in particular. Symbolism and rhetoric are important to China. Regardless of the impact of missile defense on China’s deterrent, Beijing wished to avoid being characterized as a “rogue state” or being seen as the justification for missile defenses.

The EP-3 spy plane incident notwithstanding, the Bush administration has made important strides to place the U.S.-China relationship on a firmer footing: the administration quietly dropped its “strategic competitor” rhetoric, President George W. Bush made his long-planned trip to China (even though the United States was at war), and the two sides have consistently emphasized the positive in their bilateral ties. The president and Secretary of State Colin Powell have said they wish to “build constructive, forward-looking relations” with Beijing and to have relations that are “candid, constructive, and cooperative.” Importantly, Secretary Powell has repeatedly stated that U.S. missile defense plans are not aimed at China but rather are intended to protect against rogue missiles.

Second, in early 2001 China voiced considerable unease about the provision of missile defenses to Taiwan, both in terms of specific “theater” systems, such as the PAC-3 or the Aegis sea-based air defense system, and the larger concern of substantively “linking” Taiwan with U.S. missile defense components. In April, the Bush administration deferred a decision on providing more advanced missile defenses to Taiwan and modified the controversial yearly arms sales ritual into a more flexible, “as needed” process.

Third, China hoped that it would be treated with respect due a Great Power and a nuclear-weapon state and that its interests would be taken duly into account by U.S. decision-makers. Since last May, the Bush administration has frequently consulted with its Chinese counterparts at the presidential, secretary, undersecretary, and assistant secretary levels, including Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Avis Bohlen’s trip to Beijing in mid-December following the ABM Treaty withdrawal announcement.

Perhaps most importantly, President Bush called President Zemin on December 13, a few hours before the Rose Garden announcement on the ABM Treaty. Informing the Chinese before the announcement and suggesting the need for “strategic dialogue” on the issue not only helped to reassure Beijing, but also offered the Chinese “face” and the appearance of being a player at the Great Power table.

Notably, China’s hopes for reassuring signals from the United States focus primarily on political, as opposed to military-technical, issues. Consistent with past Chinese foreign policy, the most important thing was to “get the atmospherics right” and worry about technical details later. In any event, most Chinese strategists are not concerned about missile defense for what it might mean militarily—believing that the system, even if technologically feasible, is several years off and can be defeated through qualitative and quantitative improvements to China’s missile arsenal. Rather, missile defense for China has been about high politics: what it symbolizes in terms of U.S. strategic intentions toward China and what it means for U.S. commitments toward Taiwan. In the near term, at least, it appears Beijing has been reassured on these points.

Beyond the specifics of bilateral discussions on missile defense, the overall U.S.-Chinese relationship has also experienced an upturn, another contributing factor to Beijing’s restrained reaction to the ABM Treaty withdrawal announcement. While relations have not returned to the levels of 1997-98, when the two sides exchanged high-profile state summit visits, matters are much improved from 1999, when a host of problems plagued the bilateral relationship—from the Cox Committee report and its allegations of nuclear espionage to the inadvertent bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Even the issuance in early September 2001 of U.S. sanctions against a Chinese company for its proliferation activities made hardly a ripple in relations between Washington and Beijing. Firmer footing for the bilateral relationship was only strengthened in the wake of the September 11 attacks: Washington focused its strategic attention on the war on terrorism, and China took a number of constructive steps in support of U.S. efforts.

Russia’s relatively subdued reaction was another factor weighing in Chinese minds. In the past, senior Chinese strategists publicly expressed their confidence that Russia would persevere to preserve the ABM Treaty, and Moscow and Beijing were repeatedly on record at the highest levels in their joint opposition to American missile defense plans. But by late summer, if not earlier, the Cyrillic writing was on the wall, and Chinese policy-makers had little choice but to follow Moscow’s lead. In addition, Putin and Jiang directly conversed prior to President Bush’s December 13 call to the Chinese leader, which probably also helped keep the Russian and Chinese reactions similar in tone.

And lest we forget, China has a number of other pressing issues on its domestic agenda that are more immediate and, for the survival of the Chinese Communist Party, more “strategic” in nature than the more distant and uncertain prospects for ballistic missile defense. With China’s entry into the World Trade Organization on December 11, the Beijing leadership formally added a set of new challenges to an already lengthy list of domestic socioeconomic difficulties. Moreover, China is already well into the intrigues and factional politics leading up to the next major change in Chinese leadership, slated to take place at the quintennial 16th Party Congress in early fall 2002.

In a word or two, Chinese leaders have a lot on their minds, and it is not time to rock the boat. Little was to be gained, and much could be lost, by aggressive confrontation with Washington on this issue. When all is said and done, the United States remains China’s most critical bilateral relationship—economically, diplomatically, militarily—making it very much in Beijing’s interest to downplay differences and seek stable and constructive interactions with Washington.

Thorny Issues Remain

So far, so good, right? Perhaps. While the “atmospherics” are about as good as can be expected, there are many potential difficulties in maintaining strategic nuclear stability between the United States and China.

First, in spite of all the reassurances, China still does not know precisely what Washington’s missile defense architecture is going to look like and what its impact will be on China’s missile forces, conventional and nuclear. The ABM Treaty withdrawal decision does clarify some matters. At least Beijing’s strategists can begin planning for a more robust strategic response than might have otherwise been the case had the ABM Treaty been preserved or modified. But that response will have to be largely reactive as the Bush administration’s framework for missile defense comes into view, piece by piece. Importantly, some of these steps may negatively effect overall U.S. security interests.

The most problematic “architecture” question for China concerns how Taiwan will figure into American missile defense plans. Beijing already presumes that Taiwan will likely enjoy some kind of more advanced missile defenses from the United States, though the specific circumstances under which they might be extended, and in what form, remain uncertain at this point. It appears China will be most vehemently opposed to the provision of systems, such as the PAC-3 or Aegis-equipped naval vessels, that might overtly link U.S. and Taiwanese defense capabilities in what China would view as a revival of the pre-1979 Washington-Taipei mutual defense treaty.

Second, it is unclear what precise steps China will take as part of its ongoing nuclear weapons modernization program. Here again, we can expect Chinese reactions to be partly gauged to U.S. missile defense plans. One thing seems certain: if Beijing is able to deploy even a modestly modernized second-generation arsenal, it will transform the U.S.-China strategic nuclear relationship in significant ways. The expected transition from a largely fixed-site, liquid-fuel arsenal to a land-mobile, solid-fuel force will provide Beijing with a far more reliable and formidable deterrent than it has known in the past. But China’s strategic modernization will probably not stop there. China may succeed over the next 10 to 15 years in deploying a viable “second leg” of its deterrent in the form of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and it may deploy multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles. At a minimum, we should expect an increase in the number of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads that China fields.

The next decade is also likely to see further improvements in China’s command, control, reconnaissance, and early-warning capability, including the possible introduction of space-based assets to support these functions. It is also likely that China will devote more resources to developing countermeasures, such as decoys, shrouded warheads, and possibly anti-satellite weapons, to defeat missile defenses. Importantly, these development are likely to affect China’s nuclear doctrine, which will transition from a fundamentally “minimalist” posture to a more variegated deterrent: a posture of credible minimal deterrence toward the continental United States and Russia; a more offense-oriented and possibly war-fighting posture of limited deterrence with regard to China’s theater nuclear forces, especially in response to a Taiwan contingency; and an offensively configured, pre-emptive, counterforce war-fighting posture of “active defense” or “offensive defense” for the conventional missile forces.1

These ongoing and likely modernization steps will result in a second generation of far more robust, ready, and survivable nuclear weapons for China. At this point, it is unclear how far and how fast that process will unfold and how it will be interpreted in Washington (let alone other capitals, such as New Delhi, Moscow, Tokyo, and Taipei).

The uncertainties of China’s future proliferation practices will also affect the bilateral strategic nuclear dynamic. Although Beijing seems to have curbed much of the country’s sensitive nuclear- and missile-related exports, significant concerns persist. In some cases, Chinese assistance goes to those countries whose missile programs American defenses will be designed to thwart, such as Iran. It is also possible that Chinese exporters will transfer countermeasure technologies, further complicating the U.S. missile defense effort. China may find itself having to choose between actions that are profitable and actions that will further spur missile defenses.

Finally, the future U.S.-China strategic relationship will remain captive to the significant distrust found just beneath its surface, with plenty to go around on both sides. In the United States, questions about China’s rising power; its political system; its posture toward Taiwan; its proliferation record; and, significantly, whether to accept a situation in which China can hold American cities as nuclear hostages continue to divide the nation and its political leadership, including the current administration. In China, it is not at all clear that the next generation of one-party technocrats is more open, more “globalized,” or less nationalistic than their predecessors, and concerns about American “hegemonism” and global influence have hardly diminished in the wake of September 11.

In short, in spite of the current mood, the United States and China enter a post-ABM Treaty world in which their strategic nuclear relationship will be fundamentally different than what they have known in the past, and many sensitive and complicated uncertainties will persist through this transition period.

Still, the current situation in U.S.-China relations offers some room for confidence. Gauging China’s reaction over the past year, there is a narrow window of opportunity for the two sides to establish a more serious strategic dialogue, come to terms on comfortable offense-defense levels, and inject greater reassurance and confidence into their strategic relationship. A formal, ABM Treaty-like set of agreements or understandings will not be possible in the near term because neither party is prepared to go in this direction as yet. But the newly established “strategic dialogue” process between Beijing and Washington will offer a regular opportunity for the two sides to state clearly that they do not view one another as enemies (which will require the deflection of more hawkish views in both capitals) and to work toward the common cause of strategic stability.


1. This argument is fully elaborated in Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Mark Stokes, “China’s Strategic Rocket Forces: Transition to Credible Deterrence,” in Richard Yang and James Mulvenon, eds., The People’s Liberation Army as Organization (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, forthcoming).

Bates Gill is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies and director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. His next book, Contrasting Visions: United States, China, and World Order, is forthcoming from the Brookings Institution Press.


Many observers seemed surprised by China’s muted reaction to the Bush administration’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. But analysts should not have been surprised.

U.S., China Continue Missile Proliferation Talks

In the highest-level nonproliferation talks since the Bush administration took office, the United States and China met November 29-30 in Washington to discuss Beijing’s implementation of a November 2000 missile nonproliferation pledge.

A State Department official said that the talks—held between Secretary of State Colin Powell, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Guangya—were “productive.” A diplomat from the Chinese embassy in Washington added that the meetings included a “deep and frank exchange of views” and “increased mutual understanding” of arms control and proliferation issues. The meeting was the third such session in the past four months.

In the November 2000 agreement, China committed not to help states develop “in any way…ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.” In exchange, the Clinton administration waived sanctions on Beijing and pledged to resume processing applications for U.S. companies to launch satellites on Chinese rockets, which had been suspended in February 2000.

Washington has been concerned that China has not faithfully implemented the agreement, leading the Bush administration to impose sanctions in September that triggered a ban for two years on all U.S. sales of electronic and space systems that could be related to ballistic missile development. (See ACT, September 2001.) Application processing cannot resume until those and some additional sanctions are lifted.

To waive the sanctions, resume satellite application processing, and be satisfied that China has faithfully implemented its pledge, the Bush administration wants to see China make progress on a range of issues. In mid-October, days after the previous round of talks concluded, Powell said that the administration wants China to satisfy U.S. concerns over missile-related contracts signed prior to the November 2000 agreement, develop a formal missile-related export control framework, and fulfill other requirements, which remain undisclosed. (See ACT, November 2001.)

A Senate aide familiar with the issue said Chinese missile transfers to Pakistan and Iran have continued since November 2000, describing the transfers as so “blatant” that they are “surely deliberate” and “probably [official] policy.”

U.S.-Chinese talks on the issue will continue in the coming months, but no specific dates have been decided upon yet.

Powell Says China 'Subdued' About Missile Defense

Powell Says China ‘Subdued’ About Missile Defense  Wade Boese Talking to reporters October 22, Secretary of State Colin Powell described Chinese officials as “rather subdued” about missile defense in recent months. Powell made his comments during a return flight from Shanghai, where he and President George W. Bush attended this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meetings.

Powell said that missile defenses came up during his Shanghai visit but that there “wasn’t a lingering conversation” about the issue. Neither Bush nor Chinese President Jiang Zemin mentioned missile defenses during the brief press conference following their first-ever meeting October 19. A Chinese Foreign Ministry summary of the two leaders’ talks suggested they focused on economic relations, cooperation against terrorism, and Taiwan, which China claims is the “most sensitive” issue in U.S.-China relations.

At the United Nations, however, Beijing has recently been outspoken against U.S. missile defense plans. On October 10, China co-sponsored with Russia and Belarus a draft resolution supporting the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the Bush administration says is an impediment to its missile defense plans and wants to scrap. A day earlier in a UN First Committee speech, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi called on the United States to stop development of “destabilizing missile defense systems.”

A secret U.S. intelligence assessment conducted more than a year ago reportedly warned that China could respond to U.S. missile defenses by expanding tenfold its current arsenal of some 20 long-range ballistic missiles. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) told an audience at the private Council on Foreign Relations on October 22 that, if such reports were correct, the cost of U.S. missile defenses was “not worth it.”

Powell, however, discounted a dramatic buildup. “I have seen nothing to suggest that the Chinese are so concerned about missile defense that they are poised for a breakout…that they would significantly by factors of two, three, four, or five, increase the numbers of their intercontinental ballistic missiles in order to get through a shield,” Powell said on his return flight.

Yet the secretary admitted that, if he were a Chinese general, “one small part of [his] brain” would wonder how U.S. defenses could affect Chinese missiles. Nevertheless, Powell said he hoped that, when the Chinese saw that the defenses are being developed against specific kinds of threats, that they would “not find the need to explode the size of their arsenal.”

U.S., China Make No Progress in Missile Talks

Despite a warming of relations between Washington and Beijing since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, recent efforts by the Bush administration to resolve U.S. allegations of Chinese noncompliance with a November 2000 missile proliferation agreement have apparently produced no dividends.

Attempting to lay the groundwork for an October 19 meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Jiang Zemin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai, the two countries held missile proliferation talks October 10-11 in Beijing.

Despite pressure for a deal, the meeting yielded no progress. During an October 12 press conference, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that the administration is “disappointed” that China “was not in a position to provide authoritative assurances” that it is fully implementing the November 2000 deal.

Under that agreement, Beijing pledged not to help states develop “ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.” In exchange, Washington said it would waive sanctions on certain Chinese entities and resume processing applications for U.S. companies to launch satellites on Chinese rockets, which it had stopped processing in February 2000.

Although the United States waived the sanctions following the agreement and resumed processing applications, it has not approved any applications for the export of satellites for launch. For that to happen, Washington would have to waive two sets of sanctions, one imposed for the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and the other imposed in September for missile technology transfers to Pakistan by a Chinese firm. (See ACT, September 2001.) It is unlikely that Washington will waive the latter set of sanctions without an agreement on Chinese adherence to the November 2000 deal.

During an October 17 briefing en route to Shanghai, Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out in some detail what Washington is expecting from China. Beijing needs to address U.S. concerns over missile-related contracts signed prior to the November 2000 accord; make progress on missile-related export controls; and fulfill requirements, which remain undisclosed, that would allow the United States to waive the September sanctions in order to permit satellite exports for launch, Powell said.

At the Shanghai summit, Bush and Jiang discussed non-proliferation, but that dialogue did not produce any reported results. “Proliferation is an area where there remain differences” in the Chinese-U.S. relationship, a White House official remarked during an interview.

U.S. Outlines Plans for Missile Defense Talks With China

Wade Boese

In a September 4 statement, the White House refuted reports that it plans to consent to Chinese strategic modernization efforts in exchange for muted Chinese opposition to U.S. missile defense plans. Instead, the Bush administration says that it will repeat assurances that its missile defense plans pose no threat to Beijing and argue that Chinese modernization plans are unwarranted.

The Bush administration’s statement came two days after newspapers, quoting unnamed senior administration officials, reported that Washington would not object to a buildup of China’s nuclear forces and would discuss the possibility of both nations resuming nuclear testing, in exchange for China dropping its objections to U.S. missile defense plans.

The reports elicited a wave of criticism, and Bush officials quickly backed away from the statements. In the September 4 release, the White House declared, “The United States will not seek to overcome China’s opposition to missile defense by telling the Chinese that we do not object to an expansion of their nuclear ballistic missile force.” The statement continued, “Nor will we acquiesce in any resumption of nuclear testing by China.”

Resumed nuclear testing might enable China to build new and smaller warheads, potentially increasing the possibility Beijing could field missiles with multiple, independently targeted warheads.

Both the United States and China have signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bars countries from conducting nuclear test explosions. Although the Republican-led Senate rejected giving its advice and consent to the treaty in October 1999 and the Bush administration has said it will not ask the Senate to revisit its decision, the White House declared September 4, “We are respecting the nuclear testing moratorium and all other nations should as well.”

Chinese officials have acknowledged the conflicting reports but have said that Beijing has yet to receive formal U.S. proposals on the issues and is awaiting a bilateral dialogue. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao added September 4, “We believe that what is urgent at the moment is to work for the early coming in force of the CTBT.”

Chinese officials also reiterated that their opposition to U.S. missile defense plans remains unchanged. Speaking September 18 in Washington, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Embassy He Yafei argued that U.S. missile defense plans would destabilize international security and spark a new round of arms races.

Although China has been as outspoken as Russia in its opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, the Bush administration has publicly paid far less attention to Beijing’s concerns, which it contends are misplaced. The administration argues that only countries harboring hostile intent toward the United States or its allies need to worry about U.S. missile defenses. Even though it is exploring a layered defense system of sea-, air-, ground-, and space-based missile interceptors and lasers, Washington has described its future defenses as being limited, capable of intercepting only handfuls of missiles.

But China, which possesses approximately 20 ballistic missiles capable of striking the continental United States, fears that even a limited U.S. defense would negate its nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis the United States. Zhu said China would need to “ensure the effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces” in response to a U.S. missile defense, while Chinese President Jiang Zemin told The New York Times in an August interview that China “would increase” its “defense capability in keeping with the development of the international situation.” President George W. Bush will meet with Jiang for the first time at the October 20-21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Shanghai.

Bush administration officials, particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have repeatedly downplayed predictions that China will increase its nuclear arsenal in response to a U.S. defense, contending that Beijing already has a modernization plan underway. Yet critics of the administration’s missile defense plans, such as Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), argue that China would react to U.S. missile defenses by accelerating and expanding its nuclear buildup, potentially causing India and Pakistan to do likewise.

Washington to Sanction China, Pakistan for Missile Cooperation

Alex Wagner

The Bush administration announced September 1 that it will levy sanctions on a Chinese company for shipping missile equipment to a Pakistani firm in violation of a pledge Beijing made last November.

China’s privately owned Metallurgical Equipment Corporation will be sanctioned for selling missile components covered by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to Pakistan’s state-owned National Development Complex, which will also be sanctioned. The MTCR is a voluntary regime of 33 states that restricts exports of missiles (and their components) capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. China is not a member of the MTCR but agreed last year to adhere to its guidelines. (See ACT, December 2000.)

Effective for two years, the sanctions, which are mandatory under U.S. law but can be waived by the president, will prohibit U.S. entities from transferring a variety of missile- and space-technology-related equipment to the two firms. However, they will have little effect against the Pakistani firm, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 1998.

Chinese missile transfers have long been a cause of concern to Washington, but in November 2000, the two countries reached an agreement under which China pledged that it would not help states develop “ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.” Although the Chinese statement did not mention the MTCR, the document defined nuclear-capable missiles as those that can deliver a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers, the same limits outlined in the MTCR.

In exchange for the pledge, the United States agreed to resume processing U.S. companies’ applications to use Chinese space-launch providers. According to an administration official, the application process had been suspended in February 2000 to pressure China to stem its missile exports.

But the United States has challenged Chinese adherence to the pledge, and Secretary of State Colin Powell raised the issue with Chinese leaders July 28 during a trip to Beijing. Days earlier, Powell had characterized Beijing’s recent record on missile export controls as “mixed.”

On August 23, the topic was taken up again at expert-level talks held between the United States and China, but the day after the August meeting, China’s foreign ministry spokesman maintained that “the relevant policies have been carried out to the letters,” signaling that the sides continued to differ on whether China had been continuing its missile exports.

Although an administration official denied that the late August talks and sanctions are linked, it appears likely that an agreement might have allowed the administration to waive the sanctions. At an August 6 press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had said that imposing sanctions on China “is certainly not our preferred course, although we would certainly follow U.S. law if it came to that.” He had added that the administration would like to see China abide by the November 2000 agreement and effectively implement new export controls.

Despite levying the sanctions, the United States plans to continue consulting with China on the issue. At an August 23 briefing after the experts’ meeting, State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said that the administration “will need to do additional work to clarify China’s willingness to implement fully the terms of the November 2000 missile agreement.” No additional talks specifically on this matter have yet been scheduled, but Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan will visit Washington in September and may take up the subject.

Recent allegations charging China with transferring missile components to Pakistan first surfaced July 27 in The Washington Post. Citing diplomatic sources, the newspaper said the Bush administration had lodged a “formal protest” with China for continued missile-related exports throughout 2001.

Citing “intelligence officials,” an August 6 Washington Times report then claimed China had supplied missile components for Pakistan’s 750-kilometer Shaheen-1 and 2,000-kilometer Shaheen-2 ballistic missiles. The paper said 12 transfers of missile technology had taken place between the two countries since the beginning of 2001.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson blasted The Washington Times August 9, saying that such “intelligence” was “fabricated out of thin air in an attempt to exert pressure on other countries.” The spokesperson also reiterated China’s commitment to implementing the November 2000 agreement with a “serious, earnest and responsible approach.”

Responding to the sanctions, the Pakistani foreign ministry released a statement on September 3 calling the move “regrettable and without any justification,” and Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Inam-ul Haque, said that there had been no transfer of missile technology from China to Pakistan “in recent years” during an August 17 speech in Washington.

Israel Cancels Radar Deal With China

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a letter in July to Chinese President Jiang Zemin informing him that Israel would not reconsider its decision to halt the sale of a sophisticated radar system to Beijing. Israel will begin negotiations with China in the “near future” on how to compensate China for the cancelled contract, Israeli Ministry of Defense spokesman Shlomo Dror said during an August 28 interview.

In July 2000, under pressure from the United States, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak stopped the sale of the radar system, known as the Phalcon. Chinese acquisition of the system would have given Beijing its first advanced airborne early-warning capability, which the United States feared could help tip the Taiwan Strait military balance in China’s favor.

But Barak did not actually cancel the deal. Instead, an Israeli spokesperson said that Israel would “continue to look for ways to implement the deal in understanding with the United States if the circumstances…change.” The Bush administration, however, rebuffed the idea of reversing U.S. opposition when Israeli officials broached the issue, leading Sharon to send his letter.

Sharon’s letter expressed “regret” for having to cancel the deal, Dror said. The spokesman added that Israel wants to maintain good relations with China and still considers U.S. opposition to the sale a “mistake” because it thinks Beijing will obtain a similar capability from another supplier, such as Russia or France, or will develop comparable technology on its own.

China Opposes Prospective U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

Wade Boese

Repeating what has become an annual exercise, senior Chinese government officials stepped up their public opposition in March to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The United States, which decides every April what weapons it will sell to Taiwan, has, as always, remained silent about its prospective sales but has stressed its commitment to help provide for Taiwan's defense.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be a renegade province and seeks the island's reunification with the mainland, views all arms sales by foreign countries to Taipei as a violation of Chinese sovereignty. Washington justifies its Taiwan arms sales as an obligation arising from the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which calls on the United States to make available arms "necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." The United States adopted the act after switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

This year, Taiwan is reportedly seeking, among other arms, to buy P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, advanced anti-radar missiles, and four U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat system. The Clinton administration declined to sell these weapons last year but did approve for the first time the sale of an advanced air-to-air missile.

China is most upset by the possible destroyer sale because of the ship's advanced radar, communications, and battle management capabilities, as well as the fact that the United States is planning to use these ships as the platform for its own naval theater missile defense systems. Speaking to reporters in Beijing March 14, Sha Zukang, who heads the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control and disarmament department, expressed "hate" for all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan but said that the "Aegis is the worst." Sha worried that the destroyer's advanced technology would permit it to be "linked" to the U.S. military, which he stated would be "tantamount to [a] de facto military alliance" between Taipei and Washington.

Earlier in the month, on March 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan warned the sale of advanced weaponry like the destroyers would "endanger China-U.S. relations" and counseled the United States to "rein in its wild horse right on the side of the precipice." Chinese officials describe Taiwan as the most important and sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations.

Since the Bush administration assumed office in January, China has sent three delegations to the United States to lobby against U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the most recent being the trip made by Vice Premier Qian Qichen in mid-March. Qian told reporters March 20 that the sale of the Aegis-equipped ships could change China's approach to reunification with Taiwan from peaceful to "military." Chinese policy, as outlined in February 2000, is that Beijing will only resort to force against Taiwan if the island declares independence, is occupied by a foreign country, or indefinitely refuses to negotiate on reunification.

Meeting with top U.S. officials later in the week, Qian did not repeat the same statement. Instead, according to a senior State Department official, on March 21 Qian issued the standard Chinese complaint to Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying that China considers U.S. arms sales to Taiwan a violation of the 1982 Sino-U.S. Joint Communiqué, which stated that the United States would not "carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan" and that U.S. arms sales would "not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years." Powell disagreed, the official said, and defended U.S. arms sales as helping stability in the region.

Qian did not raise the issue of arms sales with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the next morning, but he broached it with President George W. Bush that night without mentioning specific weapons systems. A senior administration official said the president reaffirmed to Qian the U.S. commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act. Bush, according to the official, also told Qian in a general discussion on regional security that "nothing we do is a threat to you, and I want you to tell that to your leadership."

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Post the following day in Beijing, Chinese President Jiang Zemin declared, "We absolutely oppose the sale of advanced weapons by the United States to Taiwan." He further warned, "The more weapons you sell, the more we will prepare ourselves in terms of our national defense." The sale of Aegis-equipped destroyers would be "very detrimental to China-U.S. relations," Jiang concluded.

For their part, Bush administration officials contend they have yet to decide on any specific weapons package, saying the decision will be made in April. Some Taiwan papers, however, report that Washington has already decided not to supply the advanced destroyers. An alternative could be the sale of four decommissioned Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, which are not equipped with the Aegis system. Such a sale would be less provocative to China and could likely be completed sooner.

According to Litton Ingalls, one of the two U.S. companies that build the Arleigh Burke destroyers, it takes three years to build an Arleigh Burke-class ship to established U.S. specifications; Taiwan's requirements would likely be different. In addition, the two companies are currently building additional destroyers for the U.S. Navy, and it is uncertain how Taiwan ships would fit into the schedule.

During a mid-March visit to China, Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, cautioned that U.S. decisions on what arms to sell Taiwan "depend in large measure" on what China does with its missiles that threaten the island. Blair noted that China has approximately 300 missiles deployed across from Taiwan and is adding about 50 a year.

Senior Republicans in Congress, led by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), have advocated the sale of advanced weaponry to Taiwan. On March 8, a professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is chaired by Helms, released a report arguing that "Taiwan does need new platforms, particularly submarines and advanced destroyers." The report charged that the United States has not only been "rejecting and slowing down arms sales to Taiwan," but "dumbing down" weapons approved for Taiwan. Taiwan's military is also "increasingly worried" about Chinese military activities and weapons buys from Russia, the report noted. (Two days before the report's release, China announced a 17.7 percent increase in its defense spending.)

According to the Pentagon, it delivered more than $15.3 billion in weaponry to Taiwan between fiscal years 1990 and 1999, as compared with only $4.4 billion in all prior years back to 1950. A Congressional Research Service report last August noted that, over an eight-year period beginning in 1992, Taiwan received some $20.6 billion in arms, while China imported roughly $5.9 billion in weapons. China primarily buys Russian weaponry, which are cheaper than U.S. arms.

Bush Administration Blunts International Opposition to NMD

Wade Boese

Two months into its term, the Bush administration's continued efforts to build foreign acceptance of, if not support for, U.S. deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) appear to be paying some small dividends. In mid-March, a top Chinese official, while still vehemently objecting to U.S. plans, welcomed talks with Washington on the issue. Meanwhile, Germany has edged away from its past opposition to NMD, and France has publicly quieted its criticism, although neither country has embraced the idea.

Unlike the Clinton administration, which largely neglected Asia on U.S. NMD plans and upset U.S. allies by focusing first on winning Russian acquiescence while taking their support for granted, the Bush administration from the outset has promised to consult fully with all interested countries. At the same time, Bush officials have emphasized they will not be dissuaded from their objective and have expressed confidence in their ability to persuade others to eventually accept a U.S. defense.

Starting a March 14 speech by noting, "It is no news that China is opposed to the U.S. NMD program," Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang declared that he wanted to "make it clear that…we are ready to have a dialogue and discussion with Americans [on NMD]." The head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control and disarmament department, Sha pointed out that only through consultations could the two sides "enhance mutual understanding and narrow down the differences." Sha, who in his speech equated NMD with "drinking poison to quench thirst," said Washington and Beijing need to talk "no matter how serious [the] issue."

While declaring that China does not want a confrontation with the United States over missile defenses, the ambassador warned that China will "not allow its legitimate means of self-defense to be weakened" and that Beijing wants to preserve "existing mutual deterrence" between China and the United States. Currently, China, which possesses roughly 20 ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, fears a U.S. national missile defense, no matter how limited, could negate its small arsenal, making China vulnerable to a U.S. first strike or eliminating its ability to deter the United States from intervening militarily in Asia, particularly with regard to Taiwan.

Like the Clinton administration did, Bush officials have declared that the system will not be directed at China, but at other states, such as North Korea and Iran, that are pursuing long-range ballistic missiles. Sha rejected this assurance, saying the United States has "over-exaggerated" such threats. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that only those who would threaten the United States or its friends and allies should be concerned about a U.S. defense.

Sha repeated long-standing Chinese charges that a U.S. missile defense could start another arms race, including one extending into outer space, and could possibly spur increased missile proliferation. Sha said that for those reasons China, which is already known to be modernizing its strategic forces, hoped Washington would abandon its plans. He added that China "should have reason to be confident that we can deal with it" if there is a U.S. deployment.

The ambassador further said that China does not oppose theater ballistic missile defenses (TMD) "utilized to protect a country's troops and for air defense purpose[s]," and he applauded the Russian proposal for a European TMD. But Sha warned against any U.S. transfer of TMD to Taiwan and against any system that could play a role in or serve as a "front" for a wider missile defense.

A week after Sha's speech, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen raised the missile defense issue with both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. A senior administration official told reporters March 22 that at the meeting Bush reiterated that a defense would not be a threat to China. When asked whether there was now a better understanding between the two countries on the issue, the official replied "I wouldn't go that far…you'd have to ask his side if they felt that."

Visiting Washington a week later on March 29, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed interest in Germany playing a future part in U.S. missile defenses if they were deployed. "Certainly, when it comes to the involvement and also participation in terms of industrial policy, certainly we'll be interested," Schroeder answered when asked by a reporter whether Germany would be willing to participate in a system.

However, Schroeder noted there were many issues that needed to be looked into, such as whether a missile defense will work, who will be covered, and how it will impact global disarmament and relations with Russia and China. Bush described himself as "grateful" that Schroeder was interested in the U.S. point of view, and the chancellor, who has been a leading European voice expressing reservations about U.S. missile defense plans, said he was "very pleased" that the president was open to discussion about the questions he had posed.

Quite vocal about its missile defense concerns last year, France has quieted its public protests following the Bush administration's promise to hold consultations with allies. A French official explained that France still has the same concerns it expressed in the past about the "potential negative effects" of missile defense but that it will raise those issues in private. Like Berlin, Paris seems to be reserving judgment on U.S. plans until it has had an opportunity to discuss them with Washington.

Russia has continued to voice its opposition to U.S. plans, and on March 6, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, a critic of missile defenses, noted after a meeting with Powell that she had not changed her position. Lindh also said that the European Union presidency, which Sweden currently occupies, does not want to see the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty threatened.

South Korea Clarifies Position on NMD

After South Korean President Kim Dae Jung signed a February 27 joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin that called for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to be "preserved and strengthened," Seoul rushed to explain that it is not opposed to a U.S. national missile defense (NMD).

Kim's signature of the statement was widely reported as evidence that South Korea was siding with Russia against U.S. missile defense plans, but Seoul announced the next day that it was "engaged in a serious review of the NMD issue" and that reports characterizing South Korea as opposing or indirectly criticizing missile defenses "have no factual ground." Seoul further pointed out that the controversial statement was a direct quotation of other statements that Washington has signed over the past year, including one that was issued by the nuclear-weapon states at the 2000 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference.

After meeting President George W. Bush at their March 7 summit in Washington, Kim reiterated to reporters that the joint South Korean-Russian statement "in no way reflects our position on NMD issues" and added that he "regretted the misunderstanding." In a joint U.S.-South Korean statement issued that day, the two leaders recognized that there were new threats in the world and that countering them would require a "variety of measures, including active non-proliferation diplomacy, defensive systems, and other pertinent measures."

A March 23 South Korean press report later quoted Seoul's foreign minister, Lee Joung-binn, as saying that the United States had requested a statement of support for NMD at the summit but that South Korea had declined. Lee subsequently retracted his remark, but on March 26 he and 10 other cabinet ministers and senior presidential secretaries were replaced by Kim in a move interpreted as an attempt to better relations with Washington. —W.B.

Commission Warns U.S. Space Assets Vulnerable

Wade Boese

Tasked with reviewing the organization and management of U.S. national security-related space activities, a congressionally mandated commission issued a report January 11 faulting the government for neglecting U.S. space capabilities. The commission warned that U.S. space assets are vulnerable and recommended that Washington develop additional space capabilities for deterrence and defense—possibly including space-based weapons.

The 13-member "Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization," headed by Donald Rumsfeld until he was nominated to serve as defense secretary on December 28, noted that the United States is "more dependent on space than any other nation." This dependence, the commission reported, makes the United States an "attractive candidate for a 'Space Pearl Harbor.'" As evidence, the commission cited, among other examples, a Chinese news article that Beijing is exploring strategies to defeat the U.S. military in a high-tech and space-based war.

Because of U.S. dependence on space, the commission said Washington must remain engaged in shaping the rules and regulations for space use, cautioning that the United States should be leery of any agreement that could, even if unintentionally, restrict U.S. space activities. While the commission acknowledged the "sensitivity" surrounding weapons in space, it declared that ignoring the issue would be a "disservice." The commission further believed that conflict in space is a "virtual certainty" and that the United States should "vigorously pursue" capabilities to guarantee the option of deploying space weapons if necessary. China, Russia, and other countries are currently pressing for negotiations on preventing an arms race in outer space at the UN Conference on Disarmament, an effort Washington is opposing.

In addition, the report said the United States should review "existing arms control obligations in light of a growing need to extend deterrent capabilities to space." The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty proscribes the development, testing, and deployment of space-based systems or components for defending against strategic ballistic missile attacks.

The commission, comprised of several retired U.S. military officers who previously held space-related commands, spent six months assessing U.S. space activities. Much of the commission's report focused on critiquing U.S. government management of its space activities, concluding that current responsibility for space issues is spread too broadly, leading to insufficient attention, direction, and funding of U.S. space programs. As a remedy, the commission called on the president to make space a national priority and for the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community, as first steps, to better organize their space commands to improve "responsibility and accountability."


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