- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

President Obama recently shifted authority for approving sales to China of missile and space technology from the White House to the Commerce Department — a move critics say will loosen export controls and potentially benefit Chinese missile development.

The president issued a little-noticed “presidential determination” Sept. 29 that delegated authority for determining whether missile and space exports should be approved for China to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Commerce officials say the shift will not cause controls to be loosened in regards to the export of missile and space technology.

Eugene Cottilli, a spokesman for Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, said under new policy the U.S. government will rigorously monitor all sensitive exports to China.


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The presidential notice alters a key provision of the 1999 Defense Authorization Act that required that the president notify Congress whether a transfer of missile and space technology to China would harm the U.S. space-launch industry or help China’s missile programs.

The law was passed after a late-1990s scandal involving the U.S. companies Space Systems/Loral and Hughes Electronics Corp.

Both companies improperly shared technology with China and were fined $20 million and $32 million, respectively, by the State Department after a U.S. government investigation concluded that their know-how was used to improve China’s long-range nuclear missiles.

Section 1512 of the 1999 law requires the president to certify to Congress in advance of any missile equipment or technology exports to China that the export will not harm the U.S. space-launch industry and that “missile equipment or technology, including any indirect technical benefit that could be derived from such export, will not measurably improve the missile or space launch capabilities of the People’s Republic of China.”

The new policy appears aimed at increasing U.S.-China space cooperation, which has been limited since the Loral and Hughes case. It follows the Chinese military’s test of an anti-satellite missile that produced potentially dangerous space junk after the missile destroyed a Chinese weather satellite in a January 2007 test.

Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said restoring Commerce Department control over the sensitive experts is a “step backward.”

“It’s as though Commerce’s mishandling of missile-tech transfers to China in the 1990s never happened,” said Mr. Sokolski, a former Pentagon proliferation specialist. “But it did. As a result, we are now facing much more accurate, reliable missiles from China.”

Mr. Sokolski said he expects the U.S. government under the new policy to again boost Chinese military modernization through “whatever renewed ‘benign’ missile technology” is approved.

“It was foolish for us to do this in the 1990s and is even more dangerous for us to do now,” he said.

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which monitors export control policies, said he was surprised by the decision to shift responsibility back to Commerce — a change that Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush did not make.

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