- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

The Senate has identified 50 Chinese weapons firms that are eligible to buy advanced U.S. computers under new Clinton administration rules easing controls on overseas high-technology sales.

All the Chinese companies are involved in developing advanced conventional weapons or nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.

Mr. Helms and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, listed the companies in an Oct. 6 letter to President Clinton asking that they be included on a government list of high-risk buyers. The letter also is intended as a warning to U.S. manufacturers that sales of advanced computers to these firms and institutes should require export licenses.

"The new rules will allow computers performing up to 28,000 MTOPS (million theoretical operations per second) to be sold without government review to military organizations in … China, India, Pakistan and Russia," the senators wrote.

"The new controls drop any distinction between military and civilian customers, thereby allowing powerful American computers to be purchased directly by foreign entities building weapons of mass destruction," they said.

The White House announced in August that it was loosening controls on overseas sales of U.S. supercomputers, systems that have numerous military applications ranging from designing long-range missiles to testing nuclear warheads.

The administration announced then that it would help U.S. manufacturers identify weapons makers but failed to produce a comprehensive list.

For example, the current warning list on Chinese companies contains only six entities, Mr. Helms and Mr. Feingold noted.

"To reduce the potential that computers manufactured in the United States may help fuel nuclear and missile proliferation, Mr. President, we respectfully urge that your administration publish a comprehensive list as soon as possible," the senators said.

"We are confident that American companies do not want their reputations damaged by inadvertent sales of computers to China's weapons manufacturers, and further that they would prefer to spend their marketing dollars on buyers presenting no proliferation problem."

The 50 companies identified in the letter "are well-known parts of China's nuclear, missile and military complex," they said. The companies fit the description of firms that pose a risk of weapons proliferation or diversion of civilian high-technology products to weapons programs.

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which tracks foreign weapons programs, said the export decontrol will benefit China's strategic nuclear warhead modernization and missile program.

"The boost to China's military will be dramatic," Mr. Milhollin said.

The firms identified by the Senate are the "strategic backbone" of China's advanced military weapons complex, he said in an interview.

"I think it's too dangerous to let powerful technology to flow to the Chinese military without a review," Mr. Milhollin said. "These are the most dangerous entities."

The relaxation of the controls followed an intense lobbying effort by the U.S. computer industry, which was eager to do business abroad.

A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times in June that China's main nuclear weapons center was using U.S. supercomputers illegally to simulate warhead detonations.

A special House committee that investigated Chinese spying and technology acquisition in 1998 said that supercomputer sales increased sharply during the Clinton administration. Between 1996 and 1998, China purchased 603 high-speed computers.

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