Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Chemical and Biological Weapons

China is widely reported to have active programs related to the development of chemical and biological weapons, although essentially no details of these programs have appeared in the open literature.

As of 2011 the Nuclear Threat Initiative reported that "Historically, the U.S. expressed doubts about whether China had fully accounted for its previous CW activities or made a full declaration of its current activities in accordance with the OPCW." In its August 2011 Condition 10(C) Report the U.S. State Department states, "The United States assesses that China has made an accurate declaration in relation to its historical CW program, including CW agent production and disposition.... The Convention entered into force for China on April 29, 1997. In its initial declaration, China declared former CW-related facilities and activities and current activities not prohibited under the Convention. The United States has since resolved its concerns about historical CW production and disposition. Available information allowed the United States to confirm that China has fully declared its historical CW activities, including CW production, and disposition of produced CW agents. It has not provided information on possible transfer of CW agents to another country, and is unlikely to do so."

China is believed to have had an advanced chemical warfare program that included research and development, production and weaponization capabilities. Its inventory was believed to include the full range of traditional chemical agents. It also has a wide variety of delivery systems for chemical agents to include artillery rockets, aerial bombs, sprayers, and short-range ballistic missiles. Chinese forces conducted defensive CW training and were prepared to operate in a contaminated environment. As China's program was further integrated into overall military operations, its doctrine, which was believed to be based in part on Soviet-era thinking, may reflect the incorporation of more advanced munitions for CW agent delivery.

In the early 1990s, Chinese chemical exports were a source of serious concern. Evidently a large number of smaller Chinese companies became active in marketing chemicals to Iran and Syria. After attention was focused on certain chemical export transactions, China again moved step by step into conformity with international ex­pectations by signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, and it subsequently ratified the CWC.

Pursuant to the requirements of the Convention, China has submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], on time and at the required levels of detail, its initial declarations and its subsequent declarations of annual and anticipated activities involving Schedule 1, Schedule 2, Schedule 3 and discrete organic chemicals facilities. The industrial facilities which China has declared account for one-third of all the facilities declared by States Parties. China has also notified the Technical Secretariat (hereinafter “the Secretariat”) in a timely manner of its transfers of Schedule 1 chemicals.

China is a developing nation, and its economy is in transition; there have been frequent cases of restructuring of government agencies and of corporate mergers and reorganisations. In addition, there is in China a vast number of chemical facilities, which are, however, of a relatively small size and possessed of underdeveloped corporate management. This situation adds to the difficulty of implementing the Convention.

On July 15, 1993, the Chinese ship Yin He left China for various ports in the Middle East. US intelligence believed the ship wascarrying the chemicals thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride, which can be used to manufacture the chemical warfare agent mustard gas. It was believed these chemicals would be delivered to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The ship spent several weeks at various anchorages in the Persian Gulf while the rhetoric between the US and China escalated. Finally, Saudi Arabia allowed the ship to dock for inspection at Dammam, for an inspection jointly by Saudis, Americans, and Chinese which took place between 26 August and 04 September 1993. The inspection report stated: “The complete inspection of all the containers aboard the ‘YIN HE’ showed conclusively that the two chemicals, thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride, were not among the ship’s cargo.” Some suggested the bill of lading was wrong and the Chinese shipped the materials on the next ship.

In November 1995, referring to Iran's chemical weapons program, Bruce Reidel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asia, testifies, "In the chemical arena, we have seen some evidence that China has provided some assistance or Chinese firms have provided some assistance, both in terms of the infrastructure for building chemical plants and some precursors for developing agents. I would point out here that the Chinese chemical industry is very rapidly growing at this time and not all facets of it may be under the fullest scrutiny of the Chinese government."

On 30 December 1996 the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress China ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC]. Previous, dual-use chemical-related transfers to Iran's chemical weapons program indicate that, at a minimum, China's chemical export controls were not operating effectively enough to ensure compliance with China's CWC obligation not to assist anyone in any way to acquire chemical weapons.

In 1995 and 1997, China promulgated export control regulations, with licensing and approval procedures for specified precursor chemicals, and began implementing them. China had difficulties with the compliance of companies that previously were un­accustomed to getting export approvals.

In March 1997, the Government of China established, under the leadership of a Vice-Premier of the State Council, the National Guiding Group on the Implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as its executive office, which was mandated to implement the Convention nation-wide. It was also charged with the task of setting up Convention-implementing organs at the provincial level, to form a national implementation system encompassing the entire nation and working under effective management.

In March 1997 Israeli authorities arrested an Israeli businessman, Nahum Manbar, for allegedly selling Chinese chemical weapon components to Iran. On May 21, 1997, pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, the US Government imposed trade sanctions on five Chinese individuals, two Chinese companies, and one Hong Kong company for knowingly and materially contributing to Iran's chemical weapons program. These individuals and companies were involved in the export of dual-use chemical precursors and/or chemical production equipment and technology. The Chinese companies were the Nanjing Chemical Industries Group (NCI) and the Jiangsu Yongli Chemical Engineering and Technology Import/Export Corp.

Both China and India exported unsafe chemicals to Iran between 1996 and 1998. Both had to upgrade their regulations and work harder to ensure internal industrial compliance. The dual-use problems of chemical feedstocks that can be used for legitimate agricultural chemicals and plastic goods but that also may be converted into chemical weapons or their precursors is a difficult area for many countries to come to grips with, not China alone.

On June 14, 2001, the Bush Administration imposed sanctions under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 on Jiangsu Yongli Chemicals and Technology Import and Export Corporation (one of the two PRC companies sanctioned in 1997) for proliferation of chemical weapons-related materials or equipment to Iran. On January 16, 2002, the Administration imposed similar sanctions (for transfers of chemical and/or biological items controlled by the Australia Group) on Liyang Chemical Equipment Company, China Machinery and Electric Equipment Import and Export Company, and a PRC citizen (Chen Qingchang, or Q.C. Chen). Chen was also sanctioned in 1997.

On July 9, 2002, the Bush Administration imposed sanctions under the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 (in the first use of this law), as well as the AECA and EAA (as amended by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991), on eight PRC entities (including those previously sanctioned) for “knowingly and materially” contributing to Iran’s chemical weapons program, according to the State Department.

On October 14, 2002, on the eve of a Bush-Jiang summit, the PRC issued regulationsfor export controls over dual-use biological agents and related technology. On December 3, 2003,China issued a white paper on nonproliferation, which stated that its control lists are almost thesame as those of the Zangger Committee, NSG, CWC, Australia Group, and MTCR.

As at March 2003, China had successfully received 62 on-site inspections by the OPCW, which covered Schedule 1, Schedule 2, Schedule 3 and discrete organic chemicals facilities, as well as the sites of the chemical weapons abandoned in China by Japan and some of the facilities which formerly produced them.

The DCI’s November 2004 report said that, in the second half of 2003, “PRC firms” still provided dual-use production equipment and technology related to chemical weapons to Iran, despite sanctions. On November 24, 2004, the Bush Administration again imposed sanctions under the Iran Nonproliferation Act that affected four PRC entities, including Q.C. Chen, likely related to chemical weapons. On December 23, 2005, the Administration again imposed sanctions for missile and chemical weapon (CW)-related proliferation in Iran by NORINCO and five other PRC entities, although the State Department reportedly had considered the sanctions since April 2005.

Beginning in November 2005, the United States informed China of the shipment of 150 tons of sodium cyanide to North Korea by Chinese firm Beijing Huayun International Trading Company. The United States was concerned that the shipment would be used by North Korea to produce chemical weapons. Subsequent PRC investigations showed that relevant Chinese authorities "never received any kind of application" from Beijing Huayun to export this substance. In 2009 the US voiced concerns about a group of employees from Zhejiang Material Industries Chemical Group and Shanxi Weiqida Pharmaceuticals Company who were believed to be traveling to Iran to provide technical training and expertise.

The PRC has long-standing opposition to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) and other domestic laws that allow the United States to impose sanctions on individuals or entities who have transferred to acquired from countries of concern items that are on multilateral export control lists.

Abandoned Chemical Weapons (ACW)

Japan used chemical weapons many times in China, during the Pacific War. On the eve of its defeat, Japan abandoned a large quantity of chemical weapons on Chinese territory. To date, these chemical weapons still pose a grave threat to the lives of Chinese people and to the ecological environment of China. The Government of China has labored to reach an early, satisfactory solution to this matter. Both being States Parties to the Convention, China and Japan reached in July 1997 the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of Japan on the Destruction in China of the Chemical Weapons Abandoned by Japan in China. In it, the Japanese Government states that it shall assume the responsibilities and obligations of an Abandoning State Party, and undertakes to destroy, as required by the Convention, all its Abandoned Chemical Weapons (hereinafter “ACWs”) in China. To assist Japan in its work, China has set up a special office responsible for dealing with the problem of the Japanese ACWs in China. These have to date been found in more than 30 locations in over ten provinces and municipalities in China, with most of them being in the northeast of the country.

In August 2003 dozens of people were hospitalized in Qiqihar City of China's northernmost Heilongjiang Province after being exposed to mustard gas from chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese troops during World War II. Deadly poisonous gas leaked on Aug. 4 when five metal barrels were dug out and broken at a construction site in Qiqihar. Highly-toxic, oil-like material also leaked out and infiltrated the soil.

Further to a decision by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Council at its Sixty-Seventh Session (EC-67/DEC.6), a national paper by China (EC-69/NAT.4, dated 20 June 2012) and a national paper by Japan (EC-69/NAT.5, dated 20 June 2012 and Corr.1, dated 10 July 2012) have been circulated to the members of the Council. While welcoming the completion of the destruction of all the 35,681 ACW2 items in Nanjing, the Council considered and decided to remain seized of the matter, and requested the relevant States Parties to take measures to implement the destruction plan. Both States Parties reaffirmed their commitment to the above-mentioned decision.

Biological Weapons

In 1939 the Japanese army established the Unit 731 germ-warfare research center in Harbin, where Japanese medical experts experimented on Chinese, Soviet, Korean, British and other prisoners.

China possesses an advanced biotechnology infrastructure as well as the requisite munitions production capabilities necessary to develop, produce and weaponize biological agents.

China deposited its instrument of accession, and thereby became a State Party to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) on November 15, 1984. The United States believes that China had an offensive BW program prior to 1984 when it became a State Party to the BWC, and maintained an offensive BW program throughout most of the 1980s. The offensive BW program included the development, production, stockpiling or other acquisition or maintenance of BW agents. Since 1984, China consistently has claimed that it never researched, produced, or possessed any biological weapons and never would do so. Nevertheless, China's declarations under the voluntary BWC-related declarations for confidence building purposes are believed to be inaccurate and incomplete, and there are some reports that China may retain elements of its biological warfare program. China's CBM declarations have not resolved U.S. concerns about this program, and there are strong indications that China probably maintains its offensive program. The United States believes that in the years after its accession to the BWC, China was not in compliance with its BWC obligations. China continues to maintain some elements of an offensive biological warfare program it is believed to have started in the 1950s.

Although China has consistently claimed that it has never researched or produced biological weapons, it is nonetheless believed likely that it retains a biological warfare capability begun before acceding to the BWC. China is commonly considered to have an active biological warfare program, including dedicated research and development activities funded and supported by the Government for this purpose. There is essentially no open source data on the subject of Chinese BW activities, and many legitimate research programs use similar, if not identical equipment and facilities.

In 2008 the US Congressional Research Service reported that unclassified sources indicated that several nations were considered, with varying degrees of certainty, to have some BW capability, including China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, and Syria.

As of 2011 the Nuclear Threat Initiative reported that "China has publicly declared itself to be in compliance with the BTWC; however, past U.S. government reports have alleged that China has a small-scale offensive biological weapons program, and that Chinese entities have transferred controlled biological weapons-related items to nations of proliferation concern such as Iran."




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