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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


20 May 2004

Export Controls Aimed at China Facing Administration Opposition

Commerce Dept. official expects efforts to modify House defense bill

By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Bush administration is likely to oppose a provision in a House of Representatives defense bill for tightening export controls in order to prevent increased arms trade with China, a Department of Commerce official says.

Peter Lichtenbaum, assistant secretary of commerce, said May 20 he expects the administration to oppose the provision included in the defense authorization bill, which was under consideration by the full House that same day. He said he has seen no formal administration position on the bill yet.

The provision was approved May 12 by the House Armed Services Committee at least partly in reaction to the possibility that the European Union would soon lift its weapons trade embargo on China.

It would generally prohibit U.S. exports of military goods or dual-use items -- technology useful in both military and commercial applications -- to any foreign person or foreign country that has previously exported any such item to Chinese military or security units.

Such exports could go ahead only under certain circumstances: if the secretary of defense concurred in approving a necessary State Department or Commerce Department export license and if the foreign purchaser agrees in writing not to transfer the item.

Business executives at a President's Export Council subcommittee meeting expressed dismay to Lichtenbaum about that provision. He said the administration would likely work to modify that provision as well as another one opposed by the business executives.

The other provision would broadly expand export license requirements for all countries on U.S.-made technology deemed militarily critical. Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, denounced it in House floor debate May 19, arguing that it would reimpose controls on computers below a technological level already approved five years ago -- "thus preventing our technology industry from exporting computing products that are a few generations old," Eshoo said.

"This amendment is so broad that it would immediately require export licenses for exports of things such as laptop and desktop computers, which can't possibly serve any national security interest," she said.

Eshoo said the provision would prevent U.S. exports to key export markets such as Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia.

Kenneth Juster, under secretary of commerce, told the subcommittee that in a trip to Beijing just days earlier he and Chinese officials signed an agreement, concluded after many years of negotiations, allowing Commerce Department officials to conduct end-use visits.

These visits would aim to verify whether U.S. exports of controlled dual-use technology to China are being used by the intended recipients for the intended purpose.

Juster said that the agreement allows Commerce officials to conduct more than 20 high-priority inspections -- some are already under way, he said. Verification would make a number of Chinese companies eligible for more licensed exports.

Chinese authorities are eager to improve their export-control regime, he said. Neither side at the meeting raised the issue of lifting U.S. sanctions imposed on military exports to China in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he said.

On another issue, Assistant Secretary Lichtenbaum said a preliminary regulation for relaxing export controls on Iraq could be published in June. He said the complex rule, which would transfer jurisdiction from the Treasury Department to Commerce, should have inter-agency clearance by the end of May.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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