- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

The People’s Republic of China was accepted into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at a meeting in Sweden on Friday. The NSG is made up of 40 nuclear-capable nations that work together to control the trade of nuclear materials and technology for business purposes. China’s membership is tacit acknowledgement by the other member states — including the United States, Britain, France and Russia — that Beijing supposedly can be trusted with a bigger role in global nuclear trade. That is a shortsighted decision we fear could have dangerous implications in the future.

China’s Communist government has a long history of weapons proliferation. Beijing’s relationship with North Korea is particularly troubling. For years, Pyongyang has acted as a middleman to sell billions of dollars of black-market Chinese weapons to such places as Libya, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Pakistan. Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program would not exist without the technical expertise it received from Chinese scientists. North Korea has worked hastily to produce nuclear warheads and the systems to deliver them. The engineering and designs for their intercontinental ballistic missiles are Chinese, and the two nations maintain a mutual defense pact (the only one Beijing has). It is risky to assume that Beijing will not sell nuclear material to its ally given its lack of restraint in the past.

Now as a member of the NSG and with the legitimacy that carries, the People’s Republic has plans to enter the commercial nuclear market in a substantial way. Brazil currently is negotiating nuclear deals with China that involve the sale of uranium and technology to process it. Three weeks ago, before it was admitted into the NSG, Beijing announced that it would build two nuclear power plants for Pakistan, a major proliferator of weapons and nuclear technology. Talks with other nations are ongoing. According to the Project for a New American Century, China “aims to spend up to $35 billion in the next decade to construct 30 nuclear power plants.” Beijing has suggested that it would like to find one foreign partner for this huge contract. During his trip to the Middle Kingdom in April, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed U.S.-based Westinghouse as the most suitable company to build China’s new reactors.

The State Department endorsed and even lobbied for China’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The policy reflects a common problem many nations have when dealing with China: Too often we see the Communist giant as we would like it to be rather than as what it really is. Beijing’s leaders harbor superpower ambitions and see themselves as the next challenger to American global power. Helping the Chinese become a more significant nuclear power is a mistake.

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