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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

USIS Washington File

07 January 1998


(USIA electronic journal "U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda") (2780)
(In the following interview, which was published in January in USIA's
electronic journal "U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda," Robert J. Einhorn,
deputy assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, says "China
realizes that its own interests are served by non-proliferation, and
that's why it has, over time, become a more and more responsible
player....It still has a long way to go" in some areas, but "we hope
to see continuing improvement in China's non-proliferation record."
Einhorn was interviewed by journal Contributing Editor Jane Morse.)
QUESTION: As a nuclear state and major power in Asia, China is
critical to the goal of ending the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction. What moves has China made in this regard and what future
steps does the United States hope China will take?
EINHORN: China, in the past several years, has taken a number of steps
to demonstrate its commitment to non-proliferation -- not just
non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but non-proliferation of
chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems.
In 1992, China became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT). And in 1995 it supported making the NPT, which is the
centerpiece of global non-proliferation efforts, permanent. It signed
the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 and became an original
party to the CWC in April of this year. It is also a party to the
Biological Weapons Convention.
So China, especially during the 1990s, has taken a variety of
important steps to support non-proliferation agreements, and it also
has cooperated with the United States in supporting non-proliferation
goals in various regions of the world.
Most importantly, it worked with the United States to promote an
effective solution to the North Korean nuclear problem in 1994. In
that period, the North Koreans were intending to withdraw from the
Non-Proliferation Treaty. We believed they had violated their
commitments under the NPT, and we were trying to find a solution. The
Chinese were effective behind the scenes in supporting a solution that
we eventually reached with the North Koreans bilaterally in October
1994, which resulted in the end of the North Korean nuclear program.
Q: How has China's attitude toward various arms control measures
changed in the past decade? And in what ways has China become a
constructive partner with regard to the arms control priorities of the
Clinton administration?
EINHORN: China's behavior has changed quite dramatically over the past
several decades. During the 1960s, for example, it was the declared
policy of China to support nuclear proliferation. The Chinese said
that proliferation of nuclear capabilities would, and I quote, "break
the hegemony of the superpowers."
China has come a long way from the days when it actually favored
proliferation. Now, we believe that China is seeing itself more as a
major power with important responsibilities. It's a permanent member
of the United Nations Security Council, it's one of the five nuclear
weapons states, and it has come to realize that one of the important
attributes of great power status is to abide by international
non-proliferation norms. So we think that China is more and more
becoming a responsible player.
But I have to say that China's evolution is not yet complete. It has
made important progress, but in certain areas of proliferation, it is
still engaged in activities that are problematic for us. For example,
while its nuclear cooperation record with third parties has
significantly improved, in the area of missile and chemical
proliferation we still see problems. We don't believe that China is
adequately controlling the export of dual-use chemical-related items.
And some Chinese entities have actually contributed to Iran's chemical
weapons program.
In the missile area, we see China exporting components and technology
which are assisting both Pakistan and Iran in the acquisition of
So China has come a long way in the non-proliferation area and
especially in the nuclear non-proliferation area. But it still has a
way to go in some of the other areas.
Q: What effect do China's military and technology relations with
Pakistan and Iran have on U.S. interests?
EINHORN: You have to look at the cases separately. We are terribly
concerned about the behavior of Iran. It's an opponent of the Middle
East peace process, it's a supporter of terrorism, it's seeking to
acquire weapons of mass destruction, and it has often taken a hostile
attitude toward its neighbors. So we believe that any assistance to
Iranian military programs is a mistake and can contribute to
instability in the important Gulf region. And we have raised this with
Chinese authorities on many occasions.
Pakistan, of course, is a friend of the United States, and we wish to
have good bilateral relations with Pakistan. We also recognize China
is a good friend of Pakistan, and we don't wish to interfere in any
way with their close relationship. But we hope that the Chinese will
recognize that their relationship with Pakistan needs to conform with
international non-proliferation norms and that assisting such
activities as Pakistan's missile program could lead to instability in
the region and could have a disruptive effect on the efforts of India
and Pakistan to work out a rapprochement after 50 years of
Q: What steps has China taken in this area with either Pakistan or
EINHORN: China has taken a number of steps. It has adopted a much more
restrained and responsible approach to the export of nuclear equipment
and technology. In the past, China had actually contributed to
Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear program. That is to say it
contributed to facilities in Pakistan that do not have International
Atomic Energy Agency safeguards or inspections. This has been a very
unfortunate practice. But the Chinese committed in May 1996 not to
provide any assistance to these unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And
we have no reason to conclude that they have violated this
Also, the Chinese recently assured us -- this was in connection with
President Jiang Zemin's visit to Washington in October 1997 -- that
they were not going to engage in any new nuclear cooperation with
Iran, and that they would complete existing cooperative projects in a
relatively short period of time. We think this was a very responsible
China also has taken steps to improve its policy related to export of
chemical-related items. In May of 1997 the United States was compelled
under its laws to impose trade sanctions against seven Chinese
entities for contributing to Iran's chemical program. After these
sanctions, we see evidence that the Chinese have taken steps to adopt
more rigorous controls on their companies that export to Iran. So this
is positive.
They also have taken some steps in the missile proliferation area, but
these are more modest. One useful step is agreement to ban the export
of any long-range ground-to-ground missiles. And we believe that China
has not exported complete ground-to-ground missiles since making that
agreement. We're concerned, however, that China continues to provide
components and technology to both Pakistan and Iran.
Q: You said that China has agreed not to undertake any new
arrangements with Iran, but will complete existing projects. How many
projects exist and how damaging are they to non-proliferation
EINHORN: We asked the Chinese, during the negotiations that preceded
President Jiang's visit, to itemize precisely what ongoing projects
they were involved in with Iran. They told us there were two existing
projects; we evaluated them and they are very minor. We don't believe
they raise proliferation concerns, and so we did not have any
difficulty with the Chinese completing them in a relatively short
period of time.
Q: What kinds of assurances has China given us regarding controls of
nuclear technology and hardware to implement the 1985 U.S.-China
Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation?
EINHORN: The Chinese have taken a number of steps and provided a
number of new assurances which provided justification in our view for
President Clinton to go forward on October 29 to indicate that he
would provide to the Congress the necessary certifications to bring
the 1985 U.S.-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement fully into force.
I'll enumerate quickly what those steps were.
One was the May 1996 pledge not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded
nuclear facilities. And, as I said, China appears to be taking this
commitment very, very seriously.
Second, it undertook not to engage in new nuclear cooperation with
Iran and to complete existing projects in a short period of time.
Third, it adopted a nuclear export control system, a nationwide
comprehensive system that it never had before and that, for the first
time, will give it the ability to control effectively both nuclear
items and dual-use, nuclear-related items that go to foreign
And fourth, it was important to us that China participate in
multilateral nuclear export control deliberations. And on October 16,
China became a member of the NPT Exporters Committee -- the so-called
"Zangger Committee," which is a group of supplier states belonging to
the NPT. This will help China become fully familiar with the nuclear
export control policies and practices of the responsible supplier
governments of the world. And I believe it will reinforce China's
movement in a responsible direction.
Q: Why did it take so long to implement the 1985 U.S.-China Nuclear
Cooperation Agreement? How does the agreement benefit China and how
does it benefit the United States?
EINHORN: After this agreement was negotiated and signed in 1985, we
came across information that China was providing assistance to
Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear program, thereby contributing to
Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. The Congress passed various
laws -- some in 1985, and some additional provisions after the
Tiananmen massacre in 1989 -- that required the president to make
several certifications if the administration wanted to implement this
Because of continuing Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear
program, no U.S. president had been able to make the necessary
certifications for a long period of time. But this administration,
given the priority it attaches to non-proliferation, decided to make
an effort to persuade China to alter its behavior and give us the
necessary assurances. We've made a major effort for the past two and a
half years to persuade the Chinese of the wisdom of this course. And
we think on the eve of the recent summit meeting in Washington, we
were able to achieve what we needed.
We believe there will be substantial benefits for both the United
States and China in implementing this agreement. For the United
States, an important benefit is the improved non-proliferation
behavior we've been able to achieve with China.
The agreement is only a framework. It enables U.S. companies to sell
to China, but individual transactions have to be approved
individually. So if China does not live up to its commitments, we can
cut off nuclear trade with China. So having this agreement in place
will provide a continuing basis for us to monitor and influence
Chinese behavior. That's an important benefit for the United States.
Also, U.S. companies will, for the first time, have an opportunity to
sell nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel and other nuclear products to
China. The Chinese have vast energy plants, including very large
nuclear plants. This is a potentially very lucrative market for the
nuclear industry.
And there could also be important environmental benefits. It's widely
understood that nuclear energy is very clean. You don't create the
pollutants that are created when you burn fossil fuels. To the extent
that China takes advantage of safe, environmentally sound U.S.
reactors, this could be an important environmental step as well.
So for us, we believe there are substantial benefits. For the Chinese,
of course, they get the opportunity to purchase and import the best,
safest, most advanced nuclear reactor designs in the world, which are
American-designed plans.
Q: Are there any estimates about how much money we're talking about,
what this means to U.S. industry? What other countries are already
selling nuclear technology to China?
EINHORN: Right now you have France, Russia, and Canada already
agreeing to sell nuclear reactors to China. But so far, China has not
had the right to buy American. It's clear that one of the reasons they
were prepared to make these new non-proliferation commitments is that
they saw real benefit in buying from the United States.
How big the market is, what we could expect in the way of U.S. nuclear
sales to China -- it's hard to predict. It will be up to the Chinese
and to the American companies, as well as their foreign competitors,
to determine what kind of a market there will be for American goods.
Q: You discussed China's changing behavior with Iran and Pakistan, but
are there other countries to which China has sold weapons?
EINHORN: Interestingly, China has not been engaged in sales to a vast
number of countries in this area. Often you see public comments from
various sources suggesting that China is an indiscriminate seller of
arms and destabilizing technologies. In fact, China's sales that we
have found questionable have been confined to a relatively small
number of recipients. We hope that China continues to improve its
record and that we don't see any indication that China is selling its
arms and technology more broadly.
Q: The media has questioned the Chinese government's response that it
did not know about certain sales by private companies. The argument is
made that there really are no private companies in China, so the
Chinese government can't claim it did not know about certain sales to
foreign countries. How would you address that?
EINHORN: I have followed Chinese behavior in this area very closely
for a number of years, and it is entirely plausible to me that there
are activities that go on that are not approved and are not even known
about by the central government. A case in point was the sale several
years ago of ring magnets, relatively unsophisticated pieces of
equipment, to Pakistan's uranium enrichment program. The more we
looked at this, the more it became very believable that the Chinese
entity involved was operating on its own without government oversight.
The commercial value of the transfer was something less than $70,000.
These were general-purpose goods, but they nonetheless contributed to
Pakistan's uranium enrichment program.
This is one reason why we have called for the strengthening of China's
nuclear related export controls, because we wanted to remedy this kind
of problem and to ensure that the governmental authorities have
oversight over all exports that could contribute to proliferation.
Q: Would you discuss China's interests in the Middle East and how they
affect China's non-proliferation efforts?
EINHORN: China has a great stake in stability in the Middle East.
China has become a net importer of oil. It has growing energy needs;
it will need to continue importing oil, including from the Persian
Gulf. So it should not want to see instability in the Gulf region.
We have had concerns with the Chinese over the sale of conventional
anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran. We feel that this anti-ship cruise
missile capability could contribute to an Iranian capability to
destabilize the region, the ability to threaten shipping in the Gulf.
So we have made this a high priority and we've recently seen signs
that the Chinese understand our concerns and hopefully will be
responsive to them.
Q: How would you characterize China's self-interest in complying with
non-proliferation issues?
EINHORN: I think China's more responsible approach to
non-proliferation is a function of its appreciation that its interests
are not served by having more countries, including countries
neighboring China, acquire these destabilizing capabilities. It no
doubt feels strongly that there should not be nuclear weapons on the
Korean Peninsula and in other areas near China.
I think China realizes that its own interests are served by
non-proliferation and that's why it has, over time, become a more and
more responsible player. This evolution is not complete; China still
has a long way to go in areas such as missile proliferation and
chemical proliferation. But the United States will be working with
China very closely and gauging China, monitoring Chinese behavior, and
where we see deficiencies, we will bring those forcefully to the
attention of China's leaders. And we hope to see continuing
improvement in China's non-proliferation record.

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