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"[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
China

Germany Opposes United States on China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal

By Oliver Meier in Berlin The German government believes that Chinese plans to export two nuclear reactors to Pakistan are covered by the existing policies and understandings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and that the 46-nation export control organization should not even discuss the deal at its meeting this week in the Netherlands. In response to a set of questions asked by opposition Social Democrat members of the German Bundestag on Germany's nuclear export control policies, the government explained that it views the planned export of the Chashma 3 and 4 nuclear reactors to Pakistan...

The ‘Pursuit of a Win-Win Situation’ at the Conference on Disarmament: Questions and Answers With Wang Qun

Wang Qun is Chinese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for disarmament affairs and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), a position he has held since 2007. He was president of the CD from March 21 to May 29, 2011. He agreed to answer written questions from Arms Control Today on the CD’s current stalemate, which is preventing progress on the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on other disarmament issues.

Wang Qun is Chinese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for disarmament affairs and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), a position he has held since 2007. He was president of the CD from March 21 to May 29, 2011. He agreed to answer written questions from Arms Control Today on the CD’s current stalemate, which is preventing progress on the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on other disarmament issues.

ACT: In your March 17 address to the CD, you said, “In my view, [the] CD’s deadlock is attributable first and foremost to political factors. The CD’s work is like a barometer of the evolving international security situation.” From China’s perspective, what are the political and security factors that are leading some states to block the implementation of formal talks on a verifiable FMCT and other elements of the CD work plan?

Wang: The CD deadlock is indeed attributable primarily to political and security factors. This is presumably self-evident as the relevant countries already have been most forthcoming and explicit, on the record, as to what difficulties they see in embarking on a process of negotiating an FMCT at the CD. However, it should be noted that different countries sought or have sought, at different points over the past 12 years, to block the CD negotiation of an FMCT out of various political or security considerations.

Countries may differ in terms of their size or position; their security concerns could, nevertheless, equally be relevant at the CD and subsequently bear on its work. This is a fact of life before us, and such concerns should be duly addressed.

ACT: Some countries have suggested that the consensus rule should not be applied to procedural matters at the CD and should instead be restricted to substantive work in order to prevent a single state from using procedure to prevent the start of negotiations. What is China’s position on this matter? From your position as CD president, are there any other procedural adjustments that can help make the CD a more efficient and effective part of the UN disarmament machinery?

Wang: From China's perspective, what needs to be sorted out in the first place is whether the current CD deadlock stems from the machinery per se. Although it is true that some dislike the CD because they find its consensus rule detestable, others like the CD precisely for this reason. If the CD is a body with inherent flaws, then why, within the same mechanism and under the same rules of procedure, was it able to negotiate and conclude treaties such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Chemical Weapons Convention, and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? This question merits our reflection.

As CD president, I am open to any suggestions and stand to be guided by member states as to whether or how procedural adjustments should be made so as to help make the CD a more efficient and effective part of the UN disarmament machinery. That, I believe, is not only the right of member states, but also provided for in explicit terms in the existing Rules of Procedure of the Conference on Disarmament.

ACT: What steps is your government taking to persuade Pakistan to allow the CD to begin the long process of negotiations on the fissile material production issue? What steps could other countries undertake to address Pakistan’s stated concerns about an FMCT?

Wang: Beijing believes that a negotiated FMCT at the CD is in everyone’s interests and wishes to see those negotiations commence as soon as possible. We thus have been doing our very best to make the case to all relevant interlocutors, including Pakistan. For an FMCT to be meaningful, it is essential that all countries with the capability of producing fissile materials be on board.

Pakistan has its concerns about an FMCT, but exerting pressure on Pakistan at every turn, for fear of Islamabad’s blocking of the CD, is undesirable if not counterproductive. To make it worse, such fears may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is desirable is to give equal weight to the legitimate security concerns of various countries in pursuit of a win-win situation based on security for all. In the meantime, the dialogue between the countries concerned is also crucial if the issues related to the CD deadlock are to be put behind us.

ACT: In your view, how can the current CD impasse be broken, so that the CD can commence its negotiation of an FMCT? Is there any specific formula to that end?

Wang: As the current CD deadlock is primarily attributable to political factors, the solution lies in political will and political wisdom, coupled with the right perception and working methods. In this context, we should work to detect and identify any evolving consensus even in the embryonic stages, especially by proceeding from the actual effects, with an FMCT as the objective.

The CD is now bogged down in a debate about how to define or characterize, in the context of the CD’s program of work, its ongoing exercise, i.e., “negotiation“ or “discussion“ of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. In the meantime, we should not fail to recognize the following basic common understanding, i.e., no delegation has hitherto sought to dispute the early commencement, on the basis of the CD’s balanced and comprehensive program of work, of its substantive work, which naturally covers the subject of the above treaty on the basis of the Shannon mandate (CD/1299 of March 24, 1995). Moreover, there has been, in fact, constructive and serious work at the CD, inter alia, on such a treaty, especially since the beginning of this year.

Although some may see the above common understanding as insignificant, it should not be belittled. On the other hand, the current CD debate on “negotiation“ versus “discussion,” no matter how significant, should not be unduly emphasized, especially with the caveat that the CD exercise is not linguistic in nature. Further, it is axiomatic that, if a treaty is reached, the process leading up to its conclusion can only be negotiation whereas, even if no one seeks to dispute embarking on a “negotiating process,” there could be considerable skepticism about whether it may produce something to that effect as long as a treaty remains elusive.

So, what do we want, “negotiation” or an FMCT? This question merits our serious reflection, on the basis of the 2009 program of work (CD/1864 of May 29, 2009), if an FMCT is really the aim.

ACT: The CD has long been considered to be the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. Given the availability of other forums for discussing disarmament issues, how can the CD maintain its distinct role if it cannot begin substantive talks on issues of interest to many countries, including a fissile material cutoff, weapons in space, and negative nuclear security assurances? If the CD remains deadlocked, are there other ways and other forums through which progress on these matters might be achieved? Some countries have initiated informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT to discuss issues such as definitions and verification. How does China view these discussions, and what role does China play in them?

Wang: The CD is a good body. While it is true that it has not concluded any new treaties since 1998, its achievements or failures should nevertheless be viewed from a historical perspective.

Certain countries are, to my knowledge, thinking of setting up a “new kitchen” so as to move FMCT negotiations out of the CD. If the purpose of such a move is to reach a negotiated FMCT, we should be clear, if not clearer, about what the objective of the prospective treaty is in the first place. What is the relevance of such a treaty reached outside the CD in the absence of the participation of key countries with the capability of producing fissile materials, and how, under such circumstances, do we achieve the objective of nonproliferation of nuclear materials?

Although it presumably is not difficult at all for the FMCT negotiations to be moved out of the CD, it is nevertheless difficult for any new or alternative mechanism to replace the role and have the same effect as the CD, a nonexclusive disarmament and nonproliferation body with members from all regions and groups, both developed and developing. It includes, in particular, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states and other countries with nuclear weapons or certain nuclear capabilities. This, I believe, merits our careful reflection.

As for the “informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT” you referred to, I think such discussions per se are useful, though they would be truly meaningful only if channeled into the CD process on the treaty with the participation of all relevant countries.

Beijing, for its part, would like to see “a good treaty” through “good negotiation” at the CD. By “good negotiation,” we mean open and transparent intergovernmental negotiation conducted on the basis of the rules of procedure of the CD and with the participation of all countries with the capability of producing fissile materials. By “a good treaty,” we mean an FMCT that brings on board all relevant countries.

ACT: China repeatedly has expressed its support for an FMCT as an important nonproliferation instrument. China also is widely believed to have halted fissile material production for weapons, yet it is the only country among the five NPT nuclear-weapon states that has not formally declared a halt to fissile material production for weapons. Can you clarify whether China is producing fissile material for weapons purposes? If not, under what circumstances would China consider joining France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States in declaring that it has halted such production?

Wang: You’re right to look at this issue in the context of Beijing’s support for an FMCT as an important nonproliferation instrument. Beijing, for its part, has many misgivings about the notion of a “moratorium on fissile material production for weapons.” The rationales behind this are, firstly, that it will very much undercut international efforts to activate the FMCT negotiation process at the CD, and secondly, that it is neither legally binding nor verifiable. Moreover, it is not clear which fissile material is supposed to be subject to the moratorium. So, I do think that an FMCT at the CD is what international efforts should be focused on.

 

China Proposes Steps to N. Korea Talks

China has proposed a three-step process to revive multilateral negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The United States and South Korea, however, say that North Korea must meet certain conditions before talks can restart.

 

Peter Crail

China last month proposed a three-step process to revive multilateral talks addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Chinese Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei outlined the proposed process to reporters in Beijing April 18, following a meeting with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, who also serves as Pyongyang’s nuclear envoy. Wu said the process would begin with discussions on the nuclear issue between North and South Korea, followed by similar discussions between North Korea and the United States, which would lead to the resumption of the so-called six-party talks.

The talks have been held intermittently since 2003 to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. China serves as the chair for the talks, which also involve Japan, the two Koreas, Russia, and the United States. Pyongyang backed out of the negotiations in April 2009 in response to the UN Security Council’s censure of its rocket launch earlier that month.

North Korea rebuffed a South Korean proposal this January to hold bilateral denuclearization talks prior to resuming multilateral negotiations. Diplomatic sources said in April that North Korea preferred to discuss the nuclear issue with the United States.

The new Chinese proposal is a slight variation on a three-step process Beijing proposed in late 2009 that would have begun with talks between the United States and North Korea and followed with preliminary discussions among the six parties leading to the formal resumption of the multilateral talks. The countries were unable to agree on that formula, particularly after the sinking of a South Korean patrol ship in March 2010, which an international investigation determined was caused by a North Korean torpedo. Last November, North Korea also shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.

South Korea has demanded that North Korea apologize for the two attacks prior to reviving the six-party talks, a step the North has refused to take. Working-level military talks in February between the two countries broke down over the issue of the two attacks, with the North Korean delegation walking out during the second day of the meeting. (See ACT, March 2011.)

The United States has backed South Korea’s position, with Department of State spokesman Mark Toner telling reporters April 18 that “a successful rapprochement between North and South Korea is an essential first step before we can consider getting involved diplomatically again or even talk about six-party talks.”

South Korea and the United States also have maintained that North Korea must take steps to demonstrate its commitment to making progress on denuclearization.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates provided the first public indication of what such steps may entail during a Jan. 11 press briefing in Beijing when he called on North Korea to adopt a moratorium on further nuclear and missile tests. The UN Security Council has required that North Korea halt such testing since 2006.

In addition, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon told a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace audience March 29, “Those [denuclearization] steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

Last November, North Korea revealed that it had built a uranium-enrichment plant it said was intended to provide fuel for a light-water nuclear power reactor it would construct. (See ACT, December 2010.) The United States and its allies have long expressed concern that North Korea was working to develop a uranium-enrichment capability in secret, allowing Pyongyang to make weapons from highly enriched uranium as well as plutonium.

North Korea denied pursuing an enrichment capability for years, admitting such work publicly for the first time in 2009 after it left the six-party talks.

Although Seoul and Washington have maintained that North Korea must take steps toward North-South rapprochement and denuclearization prior to the formal resumption of six-party talks, the two countries also have suggested that bilateral discussions could happen before such steps are taken. The Korea Times quoted South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek April 18 as stating, “I’m not saying those things are necessarily preconditions for North-South dialogue, but without them it would be very difficult to produce results.”

The last formal negotiations on the nuclear issue between North and South Korea, which took place in January 2009, were aimed at the removal of about 12,000 fresh nuclear fuel rods from North Korea. If used to operate North Korea’s five-megawatt nuclear reactor, the rods could yield enough plutonium for several additional nuclear weapons if North Korea reprocessed the spent fuel.

Diplomatic sources said at that time that North Korea asked for an exorbitant amount of energy assistance in return, making the talks inconclusive.

Former U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said at a Dec. 21 press briefing in Beijing that North Korean officials told him during his visit to Pyongyang earlier that month that the country would be willing to discuss the removal of the fresh fuel.

Richardson is one of several former U.S. diplomats that have held unofficial meetings with North Korean officials in recent months to discuss the nuclear issue informally. Former President Jimmy Carter also traveled to North Korea at the end of April in an effort to restart negotiations and discuss humanitarian issues in the country.

Efforts to resume negotiations with North Korea come amid warnings that the country might take steps to enhance its nuclear and missile capabilities if talks do not resume. The Korea Times reported April 19 that National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon told a parliamentary intelligence panel that North Korea is seeking dialogue now, but may carry out nuclear or missile tests or other military provocations if no progress is made. Parliamentary member Hwang Jin-ha, who attended the closed session, told reporters the same day that Won said there was only “a slim possibility” of a nuclear test in the near future, although North Korea could conduct one “at any time.”

Gates said in January that Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities “is becoming a direct threat to the United States,” adding, “We consider this a situation of real concern, and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement.”

 

China Releases Defense White Paper

China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

Peter Crail and Nik Gebben

China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

During a press briefing that day on the release of the report, entitled “China’s National Defense in 2010,” Chinese military officials highlighted the document as part of Beijing’s efforts at greater military openness. However, it is unclear if the document addresses U.S. concerns about China’s lack of military transparency. An April 5 Congressional Research Service memorandum says that the white paper “did not provide a picture to assess whether China poses a threat [to the United States], because the White Paper is heavy on intentions rather than details on military capabilities.”

For example, the report does not mention China’s development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) capability, believed to be geared toward countering U.S. aircraft carriers. An annual Pentagon report on China’s military released last year said that “when integrated with appropriate command and control systems,” China’s ASBM capability “is intended to provide the [Chinese military] the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”

Much of the white paper’s discussion of China’s strategic nuclear forces and arms control efforts reiterates the policies described in previous versions. Beijing repeated its pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in any conflict and described its adherence to multilateral nonproliferation agreements.

It expanded its criticism of what it calls “the global missile defense program.” Apparently referring to U.S. missile defense cooperation efforts, it said that “China holds that no state should deploy overseas missile defense systems that have strategic missile defense capabilities or potential, or engage in any such international collaboration.”

 

Chinese-Pakistani Reactor Deal Moves Ahead

 

A planned civilian nuclear deal between China and Pakistan is moving to completion although it has prompted concerns within the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

 

Daniel Horner

A planned civilian nuclear deal between China and Pakistan moved a step closer to completion, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors on March 8 approved safeguards agreements for the two power reactors that would be involved.

The units would be built at Pakistan’s Chashma site, which already houses two Chinese-built power reactors.

The deal is controversial because the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, allow members to export nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel only to countries that accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not apply these so-called full-scope safeguards.

When China joined the NSG, it had already built a power reactor at the Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second reactor, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. According to several accounts, the NSG agreed that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.

The 46-member NSG is not a formal organization; its export guidelines are nonbinding.

Reiterating the position the United States has held since mid-2010 (see ACT, June 2010), Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake told reporters in Beijing March 18, “We expect China to abide by the commitments that it made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, and in particular we think the construction of new nuclear reactors such as the Chasma 3 and 4 would be inconsistent with those commitments,” according to a Department of State transcript.

“We’ve been very clear in the Nuclear Suppliers Group context about that position, but we’ve also been very clear on the need to support Pakistan’s energy development,” Blake said. “[T]here’s a lot that can be done in non-nuclear areas that help do that,” he said.

In a March 23 e-mail to Arms Control Today, another State Department official drew a distinction between the IAEA and the NSG in the context of the deal. The United States supported approval of the safeguards pact because such agreements “play the key role of providing greater assurance and transparency that civilian activities are not diverted to other purposes,” the official said. “We believe the Nuclear Suppliers Group is the appropriate venue to discuss concerns about this transfer, not the IAEA,” the official said.

Waiting for Information

According to the official, the United States has “asked China to present the scope and details of its intended nuclear cooperation with Pakistan to the NSG,” but “China has yet to provide such details.”

The NSG discussed the matter last year during its plenary meeting in New Zealand. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) In recent interviews, diplomats said it is not on the agenda for this year’s plenary meeting, which is scheduled for June in the Netherlands, but could be discussed there.

Some observers have said the United States needs to raise the issue in venues other than the NSG. State Department officials declined to say whether Washington has done so.

In a March 14 interview, a European diplomat said many countries are “uneasy” about the situation, as they do not believe the planned reactor is covered by the grandfathering agreement. As the diplomat noted, China could request an exemption from NSG guidelines to allow nuclear trade with a country that does not accept full-scope safeguards. In response to a U.S.-led initiative, the NSG granted such an exemption in 2008 for sales to India. (See ACT, October 2008.)

“We would be very interested in the Chinese arguments,” the diplomat said, adding that Beijing probably will not request an exemption.

“We are really struggling with this issue,” the diplomat said.

In a March 29 interview, a State Department official said, “Everything [the Chinese] have said would indicate that [the deal] is going forward.”

Extracting Benefits

Some current and former diplomats have begun thinking about how to salvage from the deal “an outcome that would be kind of positive,” as the European diplomat put it. For example, the diplomat said, the NSG could press for a Chinese commitment that was “more explicit” than the one in 2004 in stating that Beijing would not conduct additional trade that fell outside the NSG guidelines.

In March 29 remarks at a nuclear policy conference in Washington, John Carlson, the former director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, said NSG members could try to convince China to insist on high standards of safety and physical protection for the reactors. Appearing on the same panel, Henk Cor van der Kwast, head of the Non-Proliferation, Disarmament, Arms Control and Export Control Policy Division in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “We don’t know how this question will go.” If the sale does take place, one possibility is a Chinese declaration making certain commitments, along the lines of the one that India made as part of the process of obtaining the exemption in 2008, he said. In a brief interview after the panel, van der Kwast said he was not suggesting that he thought China would seek an exemption for the sale to Pakistan.

The third panelist, Richard Goorevich, a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, commented, “When it comes to building nuclear reactors, it’s really not a done deal until it’s actually done.”

After the panel, he said he was not referring to a particular current obstacle. Reactor construction is a “laborious, complicated thing” and could be stalled by issues such as financing or, in Pakistan’s specific case, rebuilding from last year’s devastating floods, he said.

In his panel comments, he also said that, in the NSG, there is an “aspect of transparency with regards to each other’s nuclear cooperation,” and that is what would be discussed with China if the deal went ahead.

 

N. Korea Judged to Have More Enrichment Sites

North Korea probably has multiple uranium enrichment-related facilities, U.S. intelligence officials said, following North Korea’s decision to reveal one such facility last year.

Peter Crail

North Korea likely is maintaining uranium-enrichment facilities beyond the one revealed to a U.S. nuclear weapons expert last year, U.S. intelligence officials told a Senate panel Feb. 16.

In testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the scale and level of development of the enrichment facility at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex suggest that the country probably has pursued uranium-enrichment capabilities for some time.

“If so, there is a clear prospect that [North Korea] has built other uranium-enrichment-related facilities in its territory, including likely [research and development] and centrifuge-fabrication facilities and other enrichment facilities,” he added.

Last November, Pyongyang showed former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker a newly constructed enrichment plant containing about 2,000 centrifuges after announcing that it intended to build and fuel a small light-water nuclear power reactor. (See ACT, December 2010.)

Such a plant can be used to enrich uranium to the low levels commonly used to fuel nuclear power plants or the high levels used in nuclear weapons. Many enrichment plants, including those in development by North Korea and Iran, use gas centrifuges to separate uranium isotopes, increasing the concentration of the fissile isotope uranium-235.

The U.S. intelligence assessment appears consistent with a recent UN panel report that reportedly concluded that North Korea must have additional enrichment facilities. Last December, the UN Security Council tasked a panel of experts responsible for assessing the implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea with examining Hecker’s claims regarding North Korea’s enrichment efforts. International inspectors have not had access to North Korean nuclear facilities since May 2009. North Korea ejected International Atomic Energy Agency monitors when it withdrew from multilateral denuclearization talks that same month. Diplomatic sources said that China blocked the council’s formal adoption and release of the report, which included recommendations for additional sanctions on North Korea. One diplomat said that China prefers to address North Korea’s enrichment program in multilateral negotiations.

The United States long has suspected North Korea of developing an enrichment program to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons, but intelligence assessments appear to have varied over the scale of the North Korean effort. A 1994 U.S.-North Korean denuclearization agreement collapsed in 2002 after U.S. officials accused Pyongyang of violating that accord by developing a uranium-enrichment capability, a claim North Korea rejected.

For years, Pyongyang denied pursuing uranium-enrichment capabilities despite widespread suspicions and public claims by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that North Korea received gas centrifuge technology from a nuclear smuggling network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. North Korea first publicly admitted to an enrichment program in June 2009, after leaving multilateral disarmament negotiations. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

Japan and South Korea last month declared that North Korea’s enrichment program violates Security Council resolutions as well as North Korea’s previous denuclearization commitments. “We agreed that the international community’s concerns over uranium enrichment should be taken up at an appropriate forum like the UN Security Council,” Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said during a Feb. 16 joint press conference in Tokyo with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Sung-hwan.

After speaking with Chinese officials in Beijing, however, Wi Sung-lac, South Korean special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, told reporters in Seoul Feb. 11, “China does not agree with taking the issue to the UN Security Council.”

Beijing has called for a resumption of the six-party talks to address the North Korean nuclear issue. The talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan maintain that before those denuclearization talks can resume, Pyongyang must work to improve relations with Seoul following two military incidents last year and that it must demonstrate a willingness to abide by its prior denuclearization obligations.

North-South relations deteriorated sharply last year following the torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel in March and a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island in November. Although a multilateral investigation concluded that North Korea carried out the torpedo attack, Pyongyang has denied it. With regard to the November incident, Pyongyang says it fired artillery in response to South Korean military exercises. Seoul has insisted that North Korea take responsibility for both actions.

For the first time since those two incidents, North and South Korea held military talks at the truce village of Panmunjom Feb. 8-9, but those discussions ended without agreement on an agenda for future, higher-level talks.

 

China’s Potential to Contribute to Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament

China should work with the other nuclear-weapon states to develop a negotiating forum in which they can discuss concrete steps toward disarmament. Such a forum would give China new opportunities to address its own security concerns associated with nuclear disarmament.

Li Bin

During the Cold War, China stayed away from most multilateral nuclear institutions and forums while exercising self-restraint with regard to its nuclear force. After it launched its reform and openness policy in 1978, China began to join existing international regimes on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security and to develop new regimes with other countries when its economy was integrated into the world system.

Now, China is fully involved in almost all international institutions on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security. On nuclear disarmament, its declared policy is still that “[t]he two countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals [i.e., Russia and the United States] bear special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament,”[1] although China in fact has been engaged with other nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament issues.[2] It is time for China to take the next step and work with the other nuclear-weapon states to develop a formal negotiating forum in which they can discuss concrete steps toward disarmament.

China is reluctant to get formally involved in multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament among the five nuclear-weapon states,[3] but this does not suggest that Beijing wants to build a big nuclear arsenal. It has resources and technology to build up quickly if it chose to do so.

China chooses to keep a small, off-alert nuclear force because it believes that this best serves its security interests. The reluctance to get involved in multilateral nuclear disarmament comes mainly from its inexperience in disarmament diplomacy rather than deliberate calculation. China has a unique nuclear philosophy, and the benefits of the philosophy are not yet recognized and appreciated in a discourse in which the West has been dominant. China fully understands the roles of the nuclear taboo against the use of nuclear weapons and does not consider nuclear weapons to have a military use. (The next section will discuss China’s nuclear philosophy in more detail.) The differing nuclear philosophies obstruct communication between Chinese security experts and their counterparts in other nuclear-weapon states.

An additional difficulty is that the United States is developing missile defense systems that may undermineChina’s nuclear retaliatory capability. It is difficult for China to figure out how many nuclear weapons it may need when it faces growing missile defense capabilities in the world. An easy response for China is to leave the option of buildup open if there is not a serious dialogue between China and the United States on missile defense.

The difficulties may be converted into opportunities for China and other countries. If the five nuclear-weapon states successfully create a multilateral negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament, they will have a much better chance to understand each other’s nuclear philosophies. Otherwise it would be very difficult to change the current situation, in which the basic assumptions about the roles of nuclear weapons are very different in each country. Through serious exchanges at a multilateral forum, China’s self-imposed constraints on its nuclear policy may be recognized better by other nuclear-weapon states and therefore spur those states to adopt similar or reciprocal constraints. Some people in other nuclear-weapon states may use China’s absence from the list of countries carrying out strategic nuclear reductions to argue that their own states should not cut their nuclear arsenals further on the grounds that their nuclear dominance would be challenged by China. A disarmament forum among the five nuclear-weapon states could give China a good channel to clarify such concerns. At the forum, China could also address its own concern over missile defense and other issues as Russia does in its strategic reduction negotiations with the United States.

It is time for all five nuclear-weapon states to consider building such a formal forum to discuss further nuclear reductions. China could contribute to the success of the forum by offering both philosophical wisdom on reducing the roles of nuclear weapons and concrete commitments on the small number and low readiness of its nuclear weapons.

The Roles of Nuclear Weapons

The central role of China’s nuclear weapons is countering nuclear coercion, while in other nuclear-weapon states the weapons’ main role is nuclear deterrence. (Nuclear coercion is the sending of threatening nuclear signals to other countries to force them to yield.) Ever since China began to develop its nuclear weapons capability in the mid-1950s, Chinese leaders have acknowledged the roles of the nuclear taboo against nuclear weapons use.China’s no-first-use policy is based on an understanding that first use of nuclear weapons is not a choice in the real world. Nuclear coercion is a much more realistic threat than nuclear attack. In other nuclear-weapon states, nuclear attacks are regarded as primary nuclear threats and the states’ nuclear weapons are claimed to deter nuclear attacks and some other threats. To deter a nuclear attack successfully, a country must create intolerable damage in the attacker in a retaliatory nuclear strike. A certain number of nuclear weapons may be needed to absorb a pre-emptive nuclear strike and therefore ensure that at least a minimum number of retaliatory nuclear weapons can survive the strike. Nuclear weapons ready for launch have a higher chance to be used in retaliation, so high nuclear readiness is considered to be useful for nuclear deterrence although it brings a high risk of a nuclear accident.

To counter nuclear coercion, a country may need to demonstrate that it has a retaliatory nuclear capability, but its nuclear force does not have to be large or constantly on alert. China’s self-imposed constraints in its nuclear weapons policy are rooted in this unique nuclear philosophy that nuclear attack is not a choice of a national government in the real world due to the roles of the nuclear taboo.[4] If it joins a multilateral negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament, China can make its own contributions to deeper nuclear reductions by promoting the philosophy of nuclear taboo.

There are some new difficulties in conducting nuclear reductions beyond the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The United States believes that tactical nuclear reductions should be considered in the future because Russia has a much larger tactical nuclear arsenal while Russia wants future nuclear reductions to include nuclear warheads in storage because they allow the United States to double the size of its operational strategic nuclear force in a short time. The technical concerns of the two countries are fundamentally different. This contrasts with past U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions, which have been symmetrical. The asymmetrical concerns in the United States and Russia may be a problem for the two countries as they explore ways to reach a new consensus on nuclear reductions. Some new momentum is needed to promote asymmetrical and reciprocal nuclear reductions: the United States cuts its nuclear warheads in storage while Russia cuts its tactical nuclear arsenal.

The willingness of the United States and Russia to cut their nuclear arsenals depends on how they view the roles of nuclear weapons. Some people in the two countries may want their nuclear weapons to serve many different purposes, for example, to deter non-nuclear attacks, to limit the damage of a nuclear attack, or to symbolize the leadership of their countries. These expectations are obstacles for deeper nuclear cuts in the United States andRussia. If the two countries eventually agree that the sole purpose of their nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks, they are likely to be willing to cut their nuclear arsenals significantly. At a multilateral negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament, China will have much more influence on the United States and Russia to encourage them to agree that this is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons.

It is an opportune time to include the topic of no-first-use in multilateral discussions among the five nuclear-weapon states, as the United States expressed its willingness in its Nuclear Posture Review to establish conditions under which the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack[5] and the United Kingdom recently made a new “clean” negative security assurance to all non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.[6] If all nuclear-weapon states agree that the sole purpose of their nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack, they will not need more nuclear weapons than those required for minimum nuclear deterrence, usually estimated as several hundred strategic nuclear weapons for each country. The United States is likely to feel much less reluctant to reduce its nuclear arsenal down to the level required for minimum deterrence while Russia probably will feel that maintaining a big tactical nuclear arsenal is unnecessary. When theUnited States and Russia cut their nuclear arsenals, the other three nuclear-weapon states should have no reason to go beyond the minimum deterrence level. At the minimum deterrence level, nuclear-weapon states can have confidence that any nuclear attack against them and their allies would be deterred as their retaliatory strike can inflict minimum but intolerable damage on the attacker.

The notion of a nuclear taboo also can encourage countries to cut their nuclear arsenals further. If countries assumed that the threats of nuclear attack against them were serious, they would have to maintain minimal nuclear arsenals to deter such threats by ensuring destruction in retaliatory strikes. It would be difficult to go below the level of several hundred nuclear warheads. However, if they have some confidence that other countries are unlikely to launch nuclear attacks, they can significantly lower the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals. In the real world, it is an extremely difficult decision for governments to launch nuclear attacks on others even if they do not face destructive nuclear retaliation. The nuclear taboo could replace nuclear deterrence in the role of a brake on launching a nuclear attack. Nuclear deterrence may not be as necessary as stated in the declaratory policies of many governments.

Although there are different declaratory policies on the use of nuclear weapons, most security experts involved in various nuclear dialogues among nuclear states acknowledge the roles of the nuclear taboo. There are two common understandings on the nuclear taboo in these dialogues: No matter what the declaratory policies of their governments are, most participants strongly believe that the nuclear taboo is in effect for their governments, and most participants have some confidence that the nuclear taboo also is in effect for other nuclear-weapon states. The difference among these states is that some experts do not want the nuclear strategies of their countries to be based on the assumption that the nuclear taboo will work and some do. At a multilateral forum on nuclear disarmament, China could provoke international discussions on the nuclear taboo and help develop an epistemic community that fully acknowledges the taboo. Such a common understanding will be a key factor in reducing the roles of nuclear weapons and in leading to a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Small Numbers and Low Readiness

If the five nuclear-weapon states develop a formal negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament, the first important topic would probably be how the United States and Russia further reduce their nuclear weapons while China,France, and the United Kingdom support the reductions by making their own commitments to refrain from building up. China needs to adopt some concrete provisions binding its nuclear force. Politically and technically, it is not a problem for China to make binding commitments as it has been exercising self-restraint in connection with its nuclear weapons. The difficulty is that China is still inexperienced in translating its self-constraints into reciprocal international arrangements. The exchanges among the five nuclear-weapon states at a formal forum may stimulate Chinese security experts to explore possible reciprocal and technical arrangements on nuclear disarmament.

China could make two major, concrete commitments at a multilateral disarmament forum. These commitments correspond to the two lines in U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions.

The first line is reducing the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed. In their strategic arms control negotiations, the United States and the Soviet Union developed a set of counting rules to calculate how many strategic nuclear weapons each had. The rules have evolved slightly over the past several decades. In New START, the numbers of strategic weapons are regarded as those of “accountable” nuclear warheads, that is, warheads subject to the treaty’s counting rules, on operationally deployed strategic delivery systems. The actual numbers of deployed warheads may be larger than those of accountable nuclear warheads because several warheads contained in a single delivery vehicle may be counted as one to simplify the verification arrangements. More importantly, the United States and Russia could upload nuclear warheads to their strategic delivery systems to expand the sizes of their strategic forces quickly if they choose to do so. This does not suggest that the strategic reductions in the United States and Russia are meaningless. The reductions in the last several decades significantly reduced nuclear tensions between the two countries and the associated risks of accidents by reducing the numbers of nuclear warheads ready to be launched.

According to START counting rules, China has nearly zero nuclear weapons because its strategic delivery systems do not carry nuclear warheads except in very rare cases in which individual warheads are uploaded for technical assessments.[7] Nuclear warheads are kept separately in storage. China can upload these warheads to its delivery systems but chooses not to do so in peacetime. China’s nuclear warheads in storage would not be counted as nuclear weapons if START counting rules applied to China. When the United States and Russia consider further reducing their deployed strategic weapons by continuing along the lines of New START, China could support the reductions by making a commitment to keep its nuclear weapons off alert. Such reciprocal arrangements should be good for all parties. For the United States and Russia, their cuts from 1,550 deployed warheads—the level stipulated under New START—to hundreds would receive a reciprocal limitation of nearly zero deployed warheads for China. For China, it would encourage deep U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions by committing to a constraint that China already is observing.

The United States and Russia may consider another approach to nuclear reductions. They could reduce the total numbers of their nuclear warheads, that is, they could include in their count the warheads in storage as well as the ones that are deployed. In addition to carrying out strategic nuclear reductions under their bilateral agreements, the United States and Russia have been dismantling their nuclear warheads on a voluntary basis. They could bring the voluntary reductions in total numbers into the multilateral disarmament forum. These reductions are very important as they reduce the potential for a quick rebuilding of nuclear arsenals.

China can encourage this kind of reduction by limiting its potential to catch up with the United States and Russia in total numbers. Because China has a very small stockpile of fissile materials for weapons, some limitations on its fissile material stockpile are useful to demonstrate its commitment to refrain from a buildup. China could make progressive commitments at different stages when the United States and Russia cut the total numbers of their nuclear weapons from thousands to hundreds or lower.

China could begin with a promise to give active support to the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). As follow-up steps, China could declare a moratorium on military fissile material production, join an FMCT once it has been concluded, declare the size of its military fissile material stockpile, and eventually join the reductions in total numbers of nuclear weapons. These commitments would be worthwhile for China if they could encourage the United States and Russia to negotiate reductions in the total numbers of their nuclear weapons, a long-standing request by China. The commitments should be feasible for China as it has “delinked” the negotiations on an FMCT from those on arms control in space.

China has some experience in multilateral arms control diplomacy from its active participation in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Its support for the treaty is still useful to show its commitment to limiting its nuclear arsenal. Neither China nor United States has ratified the CTBT. China does not have a problem with the content of the treaty. This is evidenced by the fact that China actively joined all preparatory activities of the CTBT after the treaty was concluded in 1996 while the Bush administration avoided any linkage to some events it did not like, for example, those dealing with on-site inspections.

China’s reluctance to ratify the treaty comes from its inexperience in multilateral arms control. When the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, it made some reservations relating to the arrangements for on-site inspections, but the convention does not allow reservations relating to verification procedures if they are incompatible with the treaty’s object and purpose. China does not know what will happen when the United Statesratifies the CTBT. A safe approach is to wait and ratify the CTBT after the United States does. China should continue its full support of the treaty no matter the status of CTBT ratification in the United States.

If China joins a multilateral nuclear disarmament forum, it would gain more experience and confidence in arms control diplomacy. In turn, this will encourage China to take more active steps toward CTBT ratification and show its constraint on nuclear development.

">U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear reductions, which were symmetrical in the past, may become asymmetrical. IfChinaFrance, and the United Kingdom get involved, they will bring additional asymmetrical factors into the process. It is reasonable to recognize the asymmetry, and it is useful to develop asymmetrical and reciprocal arrangements in the multilateral nuclear reductions. The self-constraints mentioned above make it feasible forChina to accept two kinds of asymmetrical and reciprocal arrangements: a commitment to low readiness of Chinese nuclear weapons, which can encourage START-like nuclear reductions; and some limitations on China’s military fissile material stockpile, which can support reductions in total numbers.

Conclusion

At a multilateral forum among the five nuclear-weapon states, China could gain new opportunities to address its own security concerns associated with nuclear disarmament. Those concerns include the factors that may change nuclear calculations in the world—for example, missile defense. Constructive dialogues and negotiations at the multilateral forum will be useful for China to maintain a safe and friendly environment for its economic and social development.

A formal negotiating forum among the five nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament could bring new momentum to future nuclear reductions. In the last two decades, China has joined or jointly built almost all the international regimes on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security. China also could work with the other nuclear-weapon states to develop a negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament. Based on its existing self-constraints, China could contribute to the philosophical and concrete dimensions of future nuclear reductions. With regard to the philosophical dimension, China could promote the notion of the nuclear taboo and therefore help reduce the expected roles of nuclear weapons in the world. This will be useful in creating an environment conducive to a nuclear-weapon-free world. On the concrete level, China could commit to keeping its nuclear weapons off alert and to limiting its military fissile material stockpile. This would be an example of an asymmetrical and reciprocal arrangement to encourage deeper U.S. and Russian reductions in nuclear weapons both in operational deployment and in storage.

The conference of the five nuclear-weapon states on September 3-4, 2009, in London on confidence-building measures toward nuclear disarmament is a good beginning in this direction. The five countries could develop a formal negotiating forum on nuclear disarmament based on the experience of this conference and possible follow-on conferences.


Li Bin is a professor in Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations. He directs the Arms Control Program in the department.


 

1. Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s National Defense in 2008,” January 2009, p. 75, www.gov.cn/english/official/2009-01/20/content_1210227.htm.

 2. For example, on September 3-4, 2009, ChinaFranceRussia, the United Kingdom, and the United Stateshad a conference in London discussing confidence-building measures toward nuclear disarmament issues. SeeUnited Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “P5 Statement on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Issues,” September 4, 2009, www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=20804873.

3. Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states are China,FranceRussia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

4. On China’s nuclear philosophy and policy applications, see Li Bin, “Understanding China’s Nuclear Strategy,” World Economics and Politics, No. 9 (2006), pp. 16-22 (in Chinese).

5. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. 16, www.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report.pdf.

6. “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,” Cm 7948, October 2010, p. 37, www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf.  The United States has made a similar but somewhat more hedged statement. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” p. 15.

7. Li Bin, “Tracking Chinese Strategic Mobile Missiles,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2007), pp. 1-30.

P5 to Meet in Paris on Nuclear Transparency

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States plan to meet in Paris to discuss nuclear transparency issues and ways to verify additional arms reductions, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller said Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va. Gottemoeller’s comments added some detail to an earlier announcement by France that it would host “the first follow-up meeting of the 2010 NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Review Conference with the 5 nuclear powers recognized by the NPT.” The five nuclear-weapon states also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, known as the P5.

Tom Z. Collina

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States plan to meet in Paris to discuss nuclear transparency issues and ways to verify additional arms reductions, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller said Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va. Gottemoeller’s comments added some detail to an earlier announcement by France that it would host “the first follow-up meeting of the 2010 NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Review Conference with the 5 nuclear powers recognized by the NPT.” The five nuclear-weapon states also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, known as the P5.

The agenda for the meeting, which could take place in June, is currently under negotiation, but would be similar to that of a previous meeting, held Sept. 3-4, 2009, in London, called the “P5 Conference on Confidence Building Measures Towards Nuclear Disarmament,” Gottemoeller said. According to a P5 statement issued after the September event, the group discussed issues relating to “confidence-building, verification and compliance challenges.” Gottemoeller said French officials are interested in having a nongovernmental event alongside the Paris meeting, providing an opportunity for a “public-private dialogue to take place.

 

Worldwide Threat Assessment – What's New and What Isn't?

Robert Mueller, James Clapper, and Leon Panetta at House Permanent Select Committee Hearing (Image Source: Zimbio.com) By Greg Thielmann In spite of widespread rumors that the intelligence community's assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat had changed significantly in the last three years, two hearings held by the intelligence committees in recent days provided scant confirmation. Instead, terrorism and cyber threats dominated both the testimony of witnesses and questioning by Members of Congress. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hosted the year's first comprehensive...

U.S., Allies Prod China on North Korea

The United States, Japan, and South Korea called on China to place added pressure on North Korea following a series of provocative actions by Pyongyang and said six-party negotiations could not begin before the North-South relationship improved.

Peter Crail

The United States and its East Asian allies called on China to place additional pressure on North Korea in December following a series of provocative actions by Pyongyang that they say violated international laws and regional security arrangements.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, speaking at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Han Min-koo, Dec. 8, said it is now time for Beijing to “step up” to its “unique responsibility” and “guide the North, and indeed the whole region, to a better future.”

He criticized China for not condemning a Nov. 23 North Korean artillery barrage directed at the South Korean island of Yeongpyeong that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians. Mullen visited South Korea to discuss joint military exercises in response to the North Korean shelling, as well as “how we view provocations in the future and what kind of responses there should be across the full spectrum of opportunities,” he said.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan called the attack on Yeongpyeong a violation of the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which formally ended hostilities between North and South Korea. The two countries technically remain in a state of war.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a Dec. 6 press conference with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers that the attack was “the latest in a series of provocations” by North Korea in 2010, citing the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March and the public disclosure of a uranium-enrichment facility in November in defiance of UN sanctions. (See ACT, December 2010.)

In response to North Korea’s actions, China urged “restraint” by all parties and called for an emergency session of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Wu Dawei, Chinese special representative on Korean peninsular affairs, told reporters in Beijing Nov. 28 that, “after careful studies,” Beijing proposed such talks “to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present.” The six-party talks have been held intermittently since 2003 to negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo rebuffed the Chinese call for talks, calling for changes in North Korean behavior first.

“We remain committed to seeking opportunities for dialogue,” Clinton said alongside her counterparts, “but we will not reward North Korea for shattering the peace or defying the international community.”

She added that the three countries agreed that relations between the two Koreas must improve and Pyongyang must take steps to implement prior denuclearization commitments before the six-party talks could resume.

Sanctions Enforcement

Although the three allies outlined steps that they expected North Korea to take prior to the resumption of negotiations, they also called for the full implementation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang, highlighting China’s role in that effort.

Citing China in particular, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters Nov. 29 that implementing the UN sanctions is “in the interest of the countries in the region, and we expect them to take steps that are consistent with their obligations and all of our obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and to work, as we all must, to uphold them and implement them.”

Since the Security Council first adopted nonproliferation sanctions against North Korea and Iran in 2006, U.S. officials have often stressed the need for Chinese efforts to enforce them. Robert Einhorn, the Department of State coordinator for Iran and North Korea sanctions, traveled to China in September to press for Chinese implementation of the UN sanctions and to raise concerns about Chinese firms exporting illicit goods and technologies to the two countries.

“We did provide some information to China on specific concerns about individual Chinese companies, and the Chinese assured us that they will investigate,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said of Einhorn’s visit during an Oct. 19 press briefing.

An April 15 Congressional Research Service report on the implementation of the UN sanctions against North Korea said that the Obama administration “may have to calculate the degree of pressure to apply to China if Beijing does little to enforce the Security Council sanctions.” The report noted in particular that Pyongyang relies on North Korean companies with offices in China for its illicit nonconventional weapons trafficking.

Chinese officials have often claimed that although Beijing is willing to respond to any activities of proliferation concern in its territory raised by the United States, Washington does not provide enough information for Chinese authorities to act.

However, a 2007 cable released by the group WikiLeaks and published by the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper Nov. 28 appears to detail efforts by the United States to provide Beijing with specific information regarding North Korean proliferation to Iran. The cable says that the United States provided Chinese officials with detailed information, including the airway bill and flight number, on a November 2007 air shipment of North Korean missile-related goods to Iran transiting through Beijing’s airport.

The cable further says that the United States believed that at least 10 such air shipments had traveled to Iran via Beijing and expected the number to grow in the future. The cable adds that Chinese action was necessary to “make the Beijing airport a less hospitable transfer point.” The shipments were believed to have assisted Iran’s development of solid-fuel missile technology.

The cable also notes that the provision of such details followed a pledge by President George W. Bush during a September 2007 meeting in Sydney to respond to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s request for additional information on suspected illicit transfers.

Former State Department officials interviewed by Arms Control Today said that the level of information provided to the Chinese was not unusual. “It shows the falseness of China’s claims that the US didn’t provide enough information to take action,” one former official said in a Dec. 17 e-mail.

Another former official said China’s response to such cases was “inconsistent” and that the information would only sometimes result in Chinese action. “We would give them what we could and sometimes they’d surprise us” by acting on the information, the former official said.

China’s response to the concerns raised by the United States in the cable is unclear.

 

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