Two years after President Clinton allowed sales of civilian nuclear technology to China, Beijing is blocking implementation of a 1985 cooperation agreement by refusing to provide assurances it won’t sell U.S. know-how to other nations.
U.S. national security officials said several Energy Department export licenses have been held up because the Chinese government will not make promises about re-exports, a requirement sought by the Clinton administration and American businesses.
Mr. Clinton called the implementation of the agreement a “win-win-win” accord that will help national security, the environment and business.
However, China’s failure to follow through is raising new questions about its policy on selling technology related to weapons of mass destruction to rogue states; specifically, Beijing’s cooperation with Pakistan’s nuclear program.
The export-control issue also is expected to be a topic of debate in Congress over granting China permanent normal trade status.
Until recently, the administration had been demanding blanket assurances from China on nuclear cooperation as a result of the agreement reached in October 1997 between Mr. Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin during the Washington summit meeting.
The Chinese agreed to scale back nuclear cooperation with Iran in exchange for Mr. Clinton certifying that China was not selling nuclear-weapons technology to rogue states.
The Chinese were identified in a CIA report made public earlier this year as a major supplier of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles around the world. The report said China’s promise in 1996 to limit nuclear cooperation with Iran “appears to be holding,” but another pledge to halt exchanges with Pakistan is not.
“We cannot preclude ongoing contacts,” the CIA report said of China-Pakistan nuclear ties.
Critics of China’s weapons-proliferation activities said the lack of assurances is troubling.
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control said China should not be reluctant to promise not to share U.S. technology.
“An importer who refuses to give assurances against re-export is too risky a buyer to deal with,” Mr. Milhollin said in an interview. “If the United States exports reactors with no assurances of re-export, it might as well be sending them to Iran.”
Zhang Yuanyuan, press spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, said the Chinese government is opposing U.S. demands because they were not included in the original 1985 nuclear cooperation accord.
The certification that China is not proliferating nuclear arms was required under the 1985 agreement. Mr. Clinton made the certification in early 1998.
“The request we got was that maybe China could make a blanket statement saying it was not going to use American technology for military purposes, or [that it was] not going to transfer the American technology to any third parties,” Mr. Zhang said.
China opposes the U.S. request because it has “developed indigenous technology” for nuclear reactors, he said. “If we develop nuclear-power facilities and want to export to third countries, it will be hard to determine if the technology is indigenously developed or from the U.S.,” Mr. Zhang said. “That’s the reason we don’t want to give the assurances.”
According to an April 4 memorandum from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which reviews the Energy Department export-license applications known as Part 810s, 16 requests from U.S. companies to sell civilian nuclear-power reactor technology to China have been stalled since 1998 over the issue.
Some of the companies awaiting permission to sell nuclear technology and services include General Electric, ABB Combustion Engineering, Raytheon, Bechtel Power, Fisher-Rosemont, Data Systems and Solutions and Onsite Engineering and Management.
“To date, China has not provided any assurances for any of the Part 810 cases,” Janice Dunn Lee, director of NRC’s office of international programs, stated in the NRC memorandum. “China would prefer to provide any assurances on a case-by-case basis, but the U.S., with strong industry support, is requiring generic assurances. The matter is still under review by China.”
However, on March 2, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson violated the Clinton administration policy seeking blanket Chinese assurances by approving a license for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work with China’s Tsinghua University on a new type of nuclear reactor.
The Energy Department did not notify either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the State Department of the policy change, which it claimed was due to the academic or noncommercial nature of the cooperation.
“Secretary Richardson’s tactic of approving the MIT request subject to the receipt of case-specific assurances from China may raise congressional and media questions,” Miss Lee stated, noting that the policy change was not “significant.” She said the commission contacted Energy officials “to discuss the breach of interagency procedures and possible consequences of such actions.”
A White House national security official said the main benefit of the nuclear-cooperation agreement was China’s promise to limit nuclear cooperation with Iran. The commercial aspects of the agreement have been limited, he said.
As for China’s purchase of U.S. civilian reactors and related goods, Beijing has not made any orders and is reviewing its energy-development plans, the official said.
As for the required assurances, “we’re not going to sell nuclear-power technology until we get the assurances,” the official said, “That’s one of the essential parts of the agreement. If they want to buy U.S. stuff, they have to agree to that provision.”
A Senate defense specialist said the Chinese failure to provide the assurances is the result of bad policy by the administration.
“This just underscores why the administration should never have certified as acceptable China’s record as an arms proliferator in order to go forward with the deal,” the aide said. “The president should have gotten these re-export assurances first, and the fact that China is unwilling to give them demonstrates its continuing interest in weapons proliferation.”
The aide said that as Mr. Clinton has done in the past regarding policies toward China “he will allow the Chinese to have what they want without the assurances.”