CHINESE POLICIES ON ARMS CONTROL AND PROLIFERATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
GERALD M. STEINBERG
Among the major powers China has always been the most removed from arms control and non-proliferation activities. In contrast to the US and Russia, it has not been involved in any of the strategic nuclear reduction talks and agreements, such as Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (SALT), Strategic Arms Reductions Talks/Treaty (START), Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF), Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), etc., This is, in part, a reflection of its relatively small arsenal as well as the fact that for many years, it was isolated and played a relatively limited role in international diplomacy.
Historically, China was also a target of major arms limitation initiatives, including the early stages of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). After its first nuclear test in 1964, China has gradually developed its nuclear capabilities, including the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles. During this period, the Chinese government’s declaratory policy supported nuclear proliferation as a means of ‘breaking the hegemony of the superpowers.’(1) As the Chinese Defence industries and technological sector developed, commercial factors have also become more important. This is particularly true with respect to nuclear and missile-related technologies, and in the past decade, the role of the Chinese military-industrial complex in such exports has increased. Like other arms exporters, the changes following the end of the Cold War have led to an intensified search for new markets.
Technology transfer from China has been most blatantly visible in the case of Pakistan, and this technology provided an important foundation for the Pakistani missile and nuclear weapons programme. For China the Middle East has been and continues to be a major source of income and key market for advanced military technologies. The Chinese government, like other weapons producers, has sought to increase its share of exports to this region. In addition to the sales of conventional weapons to both Iran and Iraq, in the late 1980s, China transferred a number of long-range ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, marking a fundamental change in the rate of missile proliferation in the Middle East.
In 1991, China began construction of an unsafeguarded research reactor to Algeria, which, like China, was not an NPT signatory at the time.(2) It was not involved in the activities of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), or in other supplier regimes and as the only nuclear power to be outside the NSG, China has become one of the major suppliers of dual-use nuclear technology.(3) As will be discussed in detail below, China has extensive links involving the transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Iran, which has led to a series of confrontations with the US government.
In some cases, the available evidence indicates that China has not been an entirely unrestrained proliferator as it rejected attempts by Libya to obtain nuclear weapons.(4) In recent years, Chinese policy has been transformed from ‘detachment’ to ‘active participation’.(5) Indeed, Chinese leaders claim to have a deep commitment to the principles of non-proliferation, and in terms of declaratory policy, have come closer to the international norms. In a detailed statement of policy, a Chinese official asserted that Beijing ‘is keenly aware of its inevasible responsibility toward international arms control and disarmament. ... It shares the major concern of the world community over the danger of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and wants to work with other nuclear-weapon states toward WMD non-proliferation.’(6)
In 1992, China ratified the NPT, committing itself to require IAEA approval and safeguards on any exports of nuclear reactors and other major facilities covered under the NPT/IAEA system. In May 1996, it formally announced that it would not provide further assistance to nuclear facilities which were not subject to full IAEA safeguards.(7) On October 17, 1997, in the wake of intense American pressure, China also joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (also known as the Zangger Committee or the NPT Exporters Committee.)(8) In addition, China was among the original signatories and has since ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, indicating a growing involvement in the global system of non-proliferation agreements.
However, China has not joined the Australia Group (regulating trade in chemicals) or the Missile Technology Control Regime(MTCR), but on various occasions and in response to American pressure, has indicated an increased willingness to abide by some of the limitations. To date, Beijing has also rejected invitations to join the 33 nation Wassenaar Arrangement on limiting the sale of unsafeguarded dual-use technologies. China is a signatory to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, but the absence of verification mechanisms makes it difficult to verify compliance.
Thus, in global terms, Chinese arms control and non-proliferation policies can be described as ambivalent or contradictory. On a declaratory basis, the government is formally committed to the objectives of non-proliferation, and has agreed to participate in the major multilateral frameworks. This marks a major change in comparison to the declaratory policies of the previous decades. At the same time, in its behaviour and implementation of these policies, China, like Russia, has often been willing to allow the transfer of weapons and dual-use technology and facilities that most other members of the various supplier’s regimes have prohibited. According to the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, China is the principal supplier of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to the world.(9)
Chinese behaviour is also explained in terms of the difficulties of the central government in imposing its regulations on decentralised organisations with large budgets which are independent and relatively powerful. This is particularly true with respect to the military-industrial complex, which continues to be able to pursue what it sees as its own and Chinese national interests through arms and technology sales. As in case of Russia, the ability of the central government to control critical actors in this process is unclear, and the possibility that it lacks the willingness to impose restrictions and limitations on them cannot be discounted.
As noted, the Middle East is one the most active areas for the transfer of this problematic and often destabilising technology. Chinese sales and assistance to Pakistan, particularly with respect to the development of the Ghauri ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons programme is also highly problematic and a source of conflict, particularly with the United States and with India. However, the role of China in South Asia is beyond the scope of this paper. In the post Cold War era, the markets for arms and military technology in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are among the most active. China also has political interests in developing close relations with the major petroleum exporters of the Persian Gulf. One way to develop these relations is through the sale of advanced weapons and technologies not available from other sources.
The Chinese links with Iran are both political and economic. They began under the Shah, and result, in part, from the perception, that Iran could serve ‘as a bulwark against perceived Soviet expansionist aims toward the Persian Gulf...’ These links continued after the Islamic revolution, and during the Iran-Iraq war, China was one of Iran’s ‘closest international partners’.(10) As will be seen below, China is also reported to be a source of military technology for the Syrian missile and WMD programmes, including chemical weapons. Although the evidence regarding sales to Libya is uncertain, Frank Gaffney repothat a series of bilateral co-opeagreements and high-level visits suggest that China ‘is helping to make the Libyan threat ever more formidable.’ (11)
Although China sent representatives to the early meetings of the Middle East multilateral working group on Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS), created in the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991, they did not play an active role.(12) Other states, including Russia, Canada, Australia, and the members of the European Union, took responsibility for organising workshops and demonstration projects under the ACRS framework, but China did not become involved. Indeed, the export of Chinese technology (as well as Russian and North Korean systems) for the WMD and missile programmes of countries such as Iran and Syria, which are not participating in the process, resulted in additional instability and served to undermine the goals of ACRS. Thus, China continues to be a major source of concern in the area of arms control and proliferation in the Middle East.
In the wake of the recent nuclear tests of India and Pakistan, upsetting the nuclear equilibrium that had prevailed for the past 24 years (since the initial Indian test in 1974), Chinese leaders may be reconsidering their policies. It would seem that widespread proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons in the Middle East would not serve Chinese interests. The spread of such weapons to groups and states that could threaten China, particular through Iran, may become a source of concern, leading to greater Chinese willingness to block destabilising transfers of technology to Iran and other rogue states in the Middle East.
China and the Nuclear Suppliers Regime
The multilateral efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons are based on a suppliers regime that was formed three decades ago. During most of this period, and until very recently, China was not a party to this regime, which consists primarily of the 1968 NPT, the Zangger Committee and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In 1970, following the entry into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a group of signatories met to consider the implementation of the limitations on the transfer of nuclear facilities (reactors, enrichment, and separation plants) and related materials to non-nuclear weapons states, as specified in Article III, paragraph 2, of the Treaty. This group became known as the Zangger Committee, and in 1974, the members adopted export guidelines covering a list of items (the ‘trigger list’, formally adopted in INFCIRC/209).
The Zangger Committee has met twice yearly, and the trigger list of export-limited items is updated periodically. In 1993, additional enrichment technologies were added, based on the Iraqi experience, including electro-magnetic isotope separation (EMIS).(13) In addition, a major effort was made to bring in the remaining suppliers that were outside the regime, including China.
In 1974, following the Indian nuclear test and other developments, the US government convened a meeting of major nuclear suppliers in the effort to extend the scope of agreed limitations to include dual-use technologies in the nuclear sphere, not covered under the Zangger list. The Nuclear Suppliers Group, also known as the London Suppliers Group, also included France, which was not an NPT signatory, and was not involved in the Zangger Committee.(14)
As a result of both the Zangger Committee and the NSG, the transfer of technology, facilities, and materials slowed in the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, particularly to Asia and South America. However, the guidelines did not prevent Iraq from acquiring what was loosely described as ‘dual-use technology’ necessary to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, in this area, the guidelines were largely ineffective and billions of dollars of this technology was sold without safeguards. In 1991, the NSG met again (after a hiatus of ten years) and adopted the additional technologies that had been added to the Zangger list, and in 1993, the NSG list was expanded to include uranium conversion plants and equipment.(15)
Between 1970, when the NPT entered into force, China was one an increasingly declining number of non-NPT signatories. In the 1980s, evidence of substantial Chinese assistance to the Pakistani nuclear programme increased.(16) This led to American pressure on China to change its policies, and in 1984, China publicly declared that it would not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and would demand IAEA safeguards on its nuclear exports. However, China continued to provide ‘weapons-related aid to Pakistan’ and exported materials and facilities that were useful of weapons production to other countries. The Iraqi uranium enrichment programme was also apparently based on Chinese technology.(17) However, there was little if any visible impact on Chinese behaviour, and the range of transfers grew and between 1985 and 1987, China began to provide technical assistance to Iran.(18) In November 1991, China agreed to sell Syria 30 kW neutron source research reactor. Although the approval of the IAEA was sought and received in March 1992, the details of facility and its current status are unknown.(19)
In 1992, following the French announcement of the decision to ratify the NPT, China also ratified this treaty, committing itself to require IAEA approval and safeguards on any exports of nuclear reactors and other major facilities covered under the NPT/IAEA system. However, Chinese policy regarding the transfer of dual-use nuclear technology, both to NPT signatories, such as Iran, and non-signatories, such as Pakistan did change suddenly. China has emerged as a major supplier of technology for Iran's civilian nuclear programme (following Russia). China is completing a zero power reactor and a factory to manufacture zirconium cladding for nuclear fuel rods.(20) China has also supplied nuclear technicians and equipment to assist in construction of an Iranian nuclear plant near Isfahan that will reportedly be capable of producing ‘uranium products that can be used to make fissile material for nuclear weapons.’(21)
Following intense American pressure, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied reports that China is building an enrichment plant in Iran, and declared that China had never exported any sensitive reprocessing, uranium enrichment or heavy water production technology or equipment. He stated that ‘there isn’t any nuclear co-operation between China and Iran that is not under the safeguard of the International Atomic Energy Agency.’(22)
On 11 May 1996, the Chinese government formally announced that it would not provide further assistance to nuclear facilities which were not subject to full IAEA safeguards.(23) In addition, in May 1997, China’s State Council issued a statement entitled ‘Circular on Strict Implementation of China's Nuclear Export Policy’, which covered the export of nuclear and nuclear-related dual-use items on an interim basis. In this very detailed and unprecedented statement, the Council declared that this directive:
In 1997, a short time before a scheduled summit meeting between Chineseand American leaders, China issued more specific nuclear export control regulations beyond the dual-use technologies covered in the earlier declaration. These additions:
When China joined the Zangger Committee in October 1997, its representative Ambassador Li Changhe outlined the Chinese government’s new declaratory policy regarding nuclear related dual-use technologies. Exports, he declared, would be based on three principles: 1)peaceful applications only; 2) acceptance of IAEA safeguards; and 3) no transfers to third parties without the agreement of the Chinese government. Any assistance for nuclear explosives or related information would be forbidden, and, according to Ambassador Li, the Chinese central government would be able to deny the export of an item not on a control list if there is reason to believe that the transfer of technology might contribute to nuclear proliferation.(26)
While the implementation of this policy was unclear in the period after it was announced, formal dual-use export control regulations and a list of technologies to be covered were expected to be issued in mid-1998. In his opening statement before the Zangger Committee, the China representative stressed that its export controls include a 'catch-all' authority whereby exports which violate the export control principles, or pose a proliferation risk, whether or not they are on a control list, will be denied export licenses. (27)
This activity seemed to be linked to the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Washington in October 1997, and the summit meeting with President Clinton. Nuclear technology was among the most salient issues on the agenda, and the Chinese leadership sought approval for the bilateral Peaceful Nuclear Co-operation Agreement that was originally signed 1985 but did not take effect due to both Chinese export policy and the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Under this agreement, US firms and institutions will be allowed to provide technology and assistance to the Chinese civil nuclear power programme. The Chinese declarations regarding nuclear exports (both with respect to the Zangger Committee and the pledge to end nuclear co-operation with Iran) led the Clinton Administration to agree to implement this agreement.
In contrast, the US Congress continues to be very critical of the administration’s policy and many members of Congress expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of verification regarding the Chinese pledges prior to the Administration’s decision to authorise the sale of commercial nuclear technology.(28) Critics note that the Chinese leadership continues to hide behind the facade that the technology being transferred to Iran is ‘of a completely peaceful nature and is not at all military.’(29) However, Congress did not intervene in the implementation of the bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement.
Meanwhile, evidence that these declaratory policies would not lead to substantive changes accumulated quickly. During the summit, in October 1997, the US National Security Agency reportedly discovered that China had signed an agreement to sell Iran ‘material that could be used for developing a nuclear weapon.’(30) The material was reported to involve hundreds of tons of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, used for refining uranium ore into a gas, and for increasing the concentration of fissionable U-235. The US waited until February 1998 to confront China about the agreement. When it did, Chinese officials argued that the material, also known as hydrofluoric acid, was not on the list of controlled nuclear substances maintained by international arms control authorities. Earlier, China had reportedly agreed to sell Iran a plant to produce uranium hexafluoride plant, but this was another agreement that was not implemented following intense American pressure.(31) ‘Senior Chinese officials’ once again assured their American counterparts that the sale would not occur.(32)
The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was initially prompted by American concerns regarding the potential for ballistic missile proliferation among the outcast states in the Middle East such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya, as well as in areas of tension, such as South Asia. Ballistic missiles were viewed in the context of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons and were thus a source of concern in the context of efforts to stem nuclear proliferation. The spread of ballistic missile capabilities in regions of conflict, particularly the Middle East and South Asia, were seen as a major additional source of instability, increasing the radius of potential conflict, as well as the lethality.
During the late 1970s, the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency sponsored the initial examination of policy options. These later became the basis for negotiations between the Reagan Administration and the other members of the G-7 (the group of seven major industrial states).(33) In 1987, these negotiations resulted in what is officially termed a ‘non-binding voluntary arrangement’ that is ‘designed to limit the risk of nuclear proliferation by controlling the transfer of equipment and technology that could contribute to the development and production of nuclear-capable, unmanned delivery systems.’(34) Under its original terms, the MTCR covered missiles capable of delivering a payload of 500 kilograms or more to distances of or greater than 300 kilometres.
These parameters reflected the minimum weight of an unsophisticated nuclear warhead, and the ‘strategic distances in the most compact theatres where nuclear-armed missile might be used.’(35) In addition, shorter range, smaller payload systems were readily available, and efforts to control the transfer of this technology were viewed as unrealistic. However in the Middle East, these distances, and even smaller ranges, are indeed of strategic significance, and missiles or other means of delivery with ranges of under 300 kilometres are classified as strategic systems.
The first MTCR arrangement included an annex consisting of two categories which attempted to specify those technologies to be controlled, based on equipment and materials ‘relevant to missile development, production and operation.’(36) Under Category I, those items that were directly and clearly related to rapid missile proliferation were included, as well as related production facilities for these systems.(37) Category II consisted of ‘dual-use’ technologies, whose application to missile production was possible. (38)
The proliferation of chemical and biological capabilities led to increased concern regarding the potential use of ballistic missiles for delivering Chemical and Biological Weapon (CBW), and in 1993, the MTCR limits were extended to cover delivery systems for all forms of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the detailed listing of prohibited technologies was supplemented by an agreement that members would base their policies on a ‘strong presumption’ to deny an export request if the technology in question is ‘intended’ for use in a system to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Since chemical and biological warheads would be effective in missiles wshorter ranges and smaller payloads, this meant that additional systems below the initial 500kg., 300 km limits were now formally included in the MTCR controls. In addition, the extended definition went beyond ballistic missiles to include remotely-piloted vehicles and other potential delivery systems for non-conventional weapons.(39)
As membership in the MTCR grew to 29 by December 1997 and its scope widened, the ‘rogue suppliers’ -- China, the Soviet Union and North Korea were major sources of concern. During the 1980s, China emerged as a major supplier of advanced weapons, including missiles, in the Middle East. In June 1985, then Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani visited Beijing and signed agreements regarding the sale of missile technology. During 1987-88, China reportedly assistant Iran in the construction of the infrastructure needed to design, build and test ballistic missiles and to extend their ranges.(40) In March 1988, it was revealed that Beijing had sold a number of long range ballistic missiles (2,700 km-range DF-3 or CSS-2 IRBMs) to Saudi Arabia.(41) Ten years later, as these missiles were believed to be inoperational, reports of Saudi negotiations with China for replacement systems were published.(42) In 1989, Iran purchased several dozen CSS-8 surface-to-surface missiles (a converted SA-2 surface-to-air missile) from China, and the two states signed an agreement for the sale of M-9 missiles (based on the Chinese DF-15, also known as the CSS-6 with a range of 600 kilometres), though these were never delivered.
The assessment of the degree of Chinese assistance for the production of missiles in Iran, as distinct from the provision of complete missiles, is more difficult, in part due to the incremental nature of this technology transfer, and in part because there is also extensive Russian assistance for these efforts. China reportedly provided materials, components (such as gyroscopes and accelerometers), engineering assistance, and missile-test technology to Iran, and is assisting Iran in the development of several short-range solid-fuel missiles (whose technology could be used in longer-range systems).(43)
Indeed, as most other states capable of supplying missiles and related technology began to restrict their exports under the MTCR, China (as well as North Korea and Russia) greatly increased these sales. In the case of China, there are a number of factors that account for this surge of missile and technology transfers. As in the case of exports of nuclear technology, these factors include economic incentives, the furtherance of external political objectives, and domestic political/organisational factors. In particular, the fragmented political and military decision making system in China was seen as a major factor in allowing the ‘Chinese weapons export/import entities-which were responsible for selling missile technology- to function with relative impunity.’(44)
In December 1990, in response to these Chinese exports (as well as Russian plans to sell advanced technology to India, ostensibly for use in Indian space launchers) the US Congress passed the Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative (EPCI). Under this legislation, the US Government was required to impose sanctions on American as well as foreign ‘persons, companies, or any other entities that participated in MTCR- prohibited activities.’(45) The Bush administration opposed the 1990 EPCI measure, citing ‘the need to maintain flexibility in US foreign policy and to balance competing national interests’(56), but it became law despite these objections.
Shortly afterwards, the US government began to press Russia and China to conform to the MTCR limitations, and began to impose limited sanctions. This led to intense contacts between Beijing and Washington over this issue, and in 1992, the Chinese government agreed in writing, (in contrast to the earlier Russian oral declaration) that it would observe MTCR’s guidelines. However, these were less restrictive requirements than those accepted by full members of the regime, and included only the initial MTCR Guidelines and Annex of 1987, and not the revisions.(47) Nevertheless, the Bush administration agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Chinese institutions that had been involved in transferring M-11 missile technology to Pakistan.(48)
However, evidence showed that Chinese policies had not changed, leading to renewed sanctions, and more discussions. In 1993, evidence surfaced of Iranian production of Scud-C missiles, apparently with Chinese and North Korean assistance. In 1994, the Clinton Administration agreed to lift the sanctions in return for an explicit Chinese pledge not to export surface-to-surface missiles ‘featuring the primary parameters of the MTCR.’(49) This commitment is more explicit than the earlier commitment, including a pledge not to export particular missiles to other countries. However, China still does not accept the revised guidelines and annex. (50)
Thus, Chinese sales of missile-related technology to Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt continue. China has provided extensive assistance in the development of missile production facilities, particularly for the Isfahan plant (near the nuclear plant), which is Iran’s largest such plant, as well as in the Semnan facility for solid fuel fabrication. Although Chinese officials have claimed that it has not provided assistance in the production of medium-range ballistic missiles to Iran, they did not explicitly deny involvement in the Isfahan plant and analysts note that the Chinese definition of ‘medium range’ is distinct from the Western understanding. Since the Chinese limited their pledge to ‘the primary parameters of the MTCR’, this might also be seen as applying only to category 1 items (direct production facilities), and not dual use technologies. If this is the case, the US government received a very limited quid pro quo in return for lifting sanctions.
Throughout this period, the revelations and American government responses that continued indicate the degree to which the Chinese policies continue to be a source of tension in this relationship.
As a result, Chinese export policy led to increasing pressure from the American government for sanctions and other actions designed to force the leadership in Beijing to reduce or end these transfers. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reported that the Chinese transfer of military and dual use technology to Iran allows Teheran to develop ‘one of the most active WMD programmes in the Third World, and [it] is taking place in a region of great strategic importance to the United States.(64) The ONI reports also notes that China tried to ship chemicals for missile fuel to Iraq,(65) and sold lithium hydride to Libya and Iraq, a chemical that can be used in manufacturing nerve agents as well as for missile fuel.(66)
Similarly, the CIA reported that China is ‘the most significant supplier of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] goods and technology to foreign countries.’ This claim was backed up by the fact that China was ‘the primary source of nuclear-related equipment and technology to Pakistan and a key supplier to Iran’ in 1996.(67)
The 1997 Department of Defence Report on Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction is more ambivalent and diplomatic. The authors praise China for its ‘willingness to adopt a more responsible supply policy by adhering to international non-proliferation norms like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), by ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and by reaffirming to the United States its pledge to abide by the basic terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regarding ballistic missile sales.’ Nevertheless, the report goes on to state that ‘... the continued willingness of Chinese firms to engage in nuclear, chemical, and missile co-operation with countries of serious proliferation concern, such as Pakistan and Iran, presents security concerns in many regions where the United States has national interests at stake.’(68)
In the wake of this evidence, the US State Department was reported to be ‘very concerned’, and the Clinton Administration has reportedly issued a number of diplomatic protest notes seeking to curb Chinese support for the missile programme. These protests appear to have had no impact, and the Administration decided to refrain from imposing sanctions in order to prevent a crisis in the US-China relations. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger justified this decision, claiming that China has ‘moved toward the international community with respect to embrace of international regimes involving non-proliferation’, but admitted that ‘there are still some problems with their nuclear co-operation with Iran.’(69)
As in the case of the nuclear exports, prior to the October 1997 Washington summit, the Clinton Administration pressed China to again pledge to ‘implement export controls, ... and to halt nuclear and missile co-operation with Iran.’ (70) A few months later, the US Secretary of Defence William Cohen discussed the issues again during a visit to Beijing, and reported that the Chinese officials, including President Jiang Zemin, agreed to stop the delivery of anti-ship cruise missiles and other missile related technology. The US government also publicised the earlier decision by China against transferring the single-stage solid-fuelled M-9 missile to Syria.(71) However, analysts cite CIA reports of Chinese sales of guidance equipment related to the M-11 missiles to Syria.(72)
As noted above, while China has pledged to abide to the MTCR, (but not the broader revised guidelines and annex)(73) and the Chinese are also critical of the fact that it only covers missile technology, which is a main Chinese export, while there are no limits on the export of fighter aircraft technology, which is a major source of American and European export income.(74) In November 1995, Lia Huaqui, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs said, ‘Ballistic missiles per se are not weapons of mass destruction, but rather a carrier vehicle. Likewise, fighter aircraft are also a carrier vehicle that can carry nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons... (Not) limiting fighter plane exports is clearly double standard.’(75) Thus, it is clear that China is not likely to change its policies unless the costs of continuing the export of missile related technology becomes greater than the benefits.(76)
In early 1998, the US government appeared to alter its policies in the effort to gain more co-operation from China in limiting such dual-use exports of missile technology, particularly to the Middle East. The Clinton administration reportedly offered co-operative ventures with China in the area of commercial and scientific space activities if China formally enters the MTCR framework. (77) However, according to Chinese sources, the US has opposed such formal membership for China, apparently fearing that China would use its access to the technology provided by membership to acquire military technology.(78) In addition, an investigation regarding the link between funds provided to the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign and pressures for approval for the sale of sensitive American satellite equipment (from Loral Space & Communications) that could be used to improve Chinese missiles and MIRVs (and also be transferred to third parties) have complicated all of these decisions in the US.(79) A change in the political balance and atmosphere in Washington could lead to increased American pressure and a return to sanctions with respect to Chinese willingness to transfer dual-use or missile technology to Iran and other states in the region.
At the same time, during this period, Israel has also attempted to develop a bilateral dialogue on this issue with China. In 1991, before the formal establishment of formal diplomatic relations, Defence Minister Arens went to Beijing and reportedly raised the issue of Chinese arms and technology sales to the Middle East. Following the ceremony formally establishing diplomatic relations in 1992 in Beijing, Foreign Minister David Levy met with Chinese Premier Li Peng and Foreign Ministers Qian Qichen and the first issue on the agenda was China's arms sales to the Middle East. In particular, they discussed the Chinese nuclear reactor sale to Algeria and the M-9 missile deal with Syria. The Israeli delegation was not convinced of its success, and Levy noted that the Chinese claim ‘that is inconceivable that the US and Europe is allowed to sell (arms), and it cannot.’(80)
In October 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited China, and many of the same issues were discussed, explicitly the growing Chinese assistance for the Iranian nuclear and missidevelopment programmes.(81) In May 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu made another trip to Beijing, and after meetings with Chinese PrMinister Zhu Rongji and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, declared that they gave him an ‘absolute commitment’ that ‘they are not providing Iran with nuclear weapons technology and will not in the future’ and that China would not provide Iran with materials that could be used to produce nerve gas.’(82)
Chemical and Biological Weapons
Global non-proliferation norms and suppliers regimes are less developed in the areas of chemical and biological weapons, when compared to nuclear and missile technology. However, in the past decade, these areas have received greater attention, beginning with the Australia Group, which formed the basis for a chemical-weapons suppliers regime, and extending to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into force in April 1997.
China has a very large chemical industry, and, as in the case of nuclear and missile systems, components, and dual use technologies, there is significant evidence of Chinese assistance for chemical and biological weapons programmes of Iraq, Iran, and other states in the Middle East. In 1996, US sources reported that Chinese firms were heavily involved in providing technology to Iran's chemical weapons programme, and that China is ‘Iran’s principle source of chemical weapons precursors as well as production technology. (83) On November 21, 1996, The Washington Times, quoting a CIA report, said China had recently exported nearly 400 tons of chemicals for possible use in producing nerve agents.(84) In 1993 the US stopped a Chinese ship headed for Iran, under the assumption that this ship was carrying chemical weapons related materials but, the search did not show the presence of such materials. Other sources reported on Chinese assistance, in terms of both infrastructure for building chemical plants and some of the necessary precursors for mustard gas production at the Marvdasht centre in Fars Province and for the production of Poly-acryl corp for chemical weapons near Ishfahan. Although China formally adopted a series of export controls in December 1995 with supplements in 1997, analysts note that ‘not all facets of the Chinese chemical industry’ are under close scrutiny or complete control of the central government in Beijing.(85)
US Deputy Assistant of State Robert Einhorn declared that the Washington was deeply concerned ‘by the discrepancy between these positive steps and substantial information available to us that various Chinese entities have transferred chemical precursors, chemical production equipment, and production technology to Iran, which we expect will use them in its chemical weapons programme, one of the most active in the world today.’ As in the case of formal declarations regarding the adoption of nuclear and missile technology export controls, in the case of chemical materials and facilities, the reality of implementation is far from the declarations.(86) In May 1997, the US government imposed sanctions on Chinese companies for selling chemical weapons equipment and materials to Iran. (87) Critics of US policy argue that ‘even this modest step was taken only when the administration needed to demonstrate concern about China’s proliferation in the context of a congressional debate over the renewal of most favoured nation status for China.’(88)
These reports continued in 1997, despite the entry into force of the CWC and international pressure to end assistance in this area. A US intelligence report included reference to a Chinese supplied plant for ‘glass-lined equipment’, although there were also reports that final delivery of raw materials are still needed for operating the plant, along with chemical-weapons materials, was held up temporarily by the Beijing government. This dual-use factory was built by the Nanjing Chemical and Industrial Group, one of three Chinese companies sanctioned by the Clinton administration in May for selling chemical weapons equipment and materials to Iran. The report also identified a Chinese company known as Q. Chen as ‘a major supplier of glass-lined equipment and chemicals to Iran's chemical weapons programme’ that was linked to China’s North Chemical Industries Corporation (NOCINCO). ‘Chen and NOCINCO have been major suppliers of IMACO since its emergence in early 1995.’ NOCINCO has been identified as having delivered several hundred tons of carbon disulphide, an ingredient in nerve agents.(89)
There are also reports of Chinese assistance in the construction of an underground facility for the production of chemical and biological weapons near the Syrian capital of Damascus. In 1992, the director of the CIA declared that Syria was seeking assistance from China in the development of chemical and biological warheads.(90) In addition to its chemical weapons efforts, Iran has an active biological weapons programme, benefiting from the import of dual-use technologies. Although it is difficult to ascertain and assess the degree of assistance provided by individual states, including China. There are reports that Chinese firms provided technical assistance to Iran in the development of biological weapons at the Razi Serum and Vaccine Production Centre in Karaj.
Outlook for the Future
A number of factors explain China’s continuing sales of dual-use and military technology linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. First, the pragmatic basis for Chinese policy means that arms and technology sales are seen largely in terms of the economic and political benefits that they can provide. In the Middle East, in general, and with respect to the major oil producing states in particular, (Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia), China, like many other states, uses these exports to assure access to petroleum. The increased activity reflects, in part, its growing dependency on imports of oil will increase significantly. (91)
Furthermore, the Chinese government argues that the Chinese sales of weapons and technology amounts to a fraction of the total flow to the region. Guang Pan notes that ‘China’s arms constitute only a very small proportion of the arms entering Middle East countries, far less than those from the United States, the former USSR, France, or Britain.’(92)
Beijing also views missile and WMD sales to radical states in the Middle East, such as Iran and Iraq, as a form of retaliation for Western arms sales to Taiwan. In July 1991, following the Gulf War, representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (and also the five major arms suppliers in the Middle East), met in Paris to consider agreed limitations and ‘rules of the game’ on weapons and technology transfers. Formally, China supported this initiative, on the condition that the limitations be ‘comprehensive, balanced, and effective’.(93) During a press conference in Cairo, held in July 1991, Chinese Premier Li Peng called for agreed limits on ‘all kinds of weapons’ and ‘without the practice of exercising control over some particular countries while relaxing control over other countries.’(94) A second meeting in October produced some proposed ‘Guidelines for Conventional Arms Transfers’.’(95) However, in the wake of President Bush’s decision to sell 150 F-16 aircraft to Taiwan, China ended its participation in this stillborn exercise.
To the degree that past behaviour is an indication, China is likely to continue to combine an aggressive export policy, particularly with respect to dual-use technologies, and declaratory policies that are designed to conform to the pressures from the US government. At times, and under certain conditions, the central Chinese leadership may seek to slow or prevent certain transactions, particularly when such exports would be likely to lead to sanctions from the US government. However, in the past, these limitations have been temporary and narrowly confined to specific agreements, rather than part of an broader reassessment of technology transfer and export policies. As before US government attention and pressures can be expected to be sporadic and not alwconsistent as commercial and political factors opposing sanctions tend to dominate in the long term. Thus, the Chinese government can continued to generignore, evade and wait-out sanctions, while continuing to receive the benefits of arms sales and exceptionality in the context of the supplier regimes.
In May 1998, India detonated five nuclear test explosions, including thermonuclear and low-yield devises, and declared itself to be a nuclear power. This was followed by a number of Pakistani nuclear tests, and declarations regarding the impact of an ‘Islamic bomb’ on the Middle East. Pakistan, which received much of its technology and some facilities from China, is now seen by some as a potential source of similar assistance to Iran, thus continuing the chain of proliferation.
These events were a substantial shock to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and endangered the future of this regime. Suddenly, China had a nuclear armed rival in the region. Furthermore, among the reasons cited by India for its decision to go nuclear, was the Chinese assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. China’s immediate environment had become highly unstable, with the growing possibility of a nuclear exchange. In addition, the possibility of an accelerated Iran nuclear acquisition programme leading to widespread instability in the entire Middle East was also seen in Beijing as a negative development for Chinese security interests.
As a result, it is possible that China may re-evaluate the importance of the non-proliferation and export control regimes, and recognise that by exempting itself from these mechanisms, it is contributing to international instability and also endangering its own vital national interests. Policy makers in Beijing may realise that a nuclear armed Iran could eventually also be a threat to China.
In early June 1998, the 5 permanent members of the UN Security powers and the five recognised nuclear weapons states under the NPT met in emergency session in Geneva. There were signs of greater urgency among the leaders, including the Chinese foreign minister, who served as the convenor of this meeting. In contrast to the meetings of the P-5 after the 1991 Gulf War, this time, the pressures for increasing the strength of the sanctions systems may result in broader agreement, designed to prevent the chain of proliferation from extending beyond Pakistan and India.
In a broader sense, as the number of states that abide by the supplier regimes increases, the exceptional states are increasingly isolated, and this has a growing cost. China, Russia and North Korea are now the only states that permit the sale of dual-use technologies and WMD components to the ‘rogue’ or ‘outcast’ states in the Middle East. This association with rogue states which are the sources of regional instability, supporting terrorism and opposing the Arab-Israel peace process leads to political isolation for the suppliers as well. In the case of North Korea, the impact is minimal, since the regime in Pyongyang is an isolated rogue state itself. However, to the degree that China seeks international acceptance as a major and responsible power, such behaviour and policies are detrimental to long-term goals.
Secondly, the ability of the US government and the ‘China lobby’ to find ways to overlook Chinese violations of export control and non-proliferation requirements may be declining. With each US-Chinese summit, Beijing’s behaviour, and not merely its declaratory policies, are coming under growing scrutiny. The Republican dominated Congress has been critical of the Clinton Administration’s decision to implement the 1985 bilateral nuclear technology agreement while the evidence shows that China has not been willing to end its sales of military and dual-use technologies.(96) Additional violations of global non-proliferation and export control norms are likely to bring increased use of sanctions through the legislative process and imposed on the Administration. In early 1998, Congressional critics of the Administration’s unwillingness to impose sanctions on Russia for the export of missile and nuclear technology to Iran began to consider additional sanctions on Russia, and the same pattern may develop with respect to China.
Finally, within the Chinese decision making structure, developments are allowing the central government to assess the costs and benefits of such technology exports at an earlier stage, providing a potential for greater control over the interests that seek in increase or maintain the export activity to the oil-exporting states in the Middle East. The steady increase in the information available to the central government regarding negotiations of questionable export contracts allows for intervention at a relatively earlier stage, particularly with respect to the construction of facilities, such as production plants, that are built in stages over a relatively long period. The question is whether the government is willing to use this information and its ability to exert control. If the political and economic costs of supplying technology are high enough, China will reconsider its actions and policies in this sphere.
Author’s address: Director, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. E-mail: <email@example.com>
Research for this paper was funded by a grant from the BESA Centre for Strategic Studies the author would like to thank Seth Axelrod, Michal Cooper, Melissa Wohl, and Daniel Silberman for their assistance.
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2. The existence of the 15 MW heavy water reactor located at Ayn Oussera, 250 km south of Algiers, was kept secret, and was discovered shortly before completion by US reconnaissance satellites in 1991. The reactor is reportedly capable of producing from 2 to 4 kg of plutonium annually, and some analysts speculate that it might be expanded to 60 Mwt in order to increase the rate of production.. Following international pressure, Algeria ratified the NPT in 1995 and accepted full scope safeguards. See Leonard Spector, Mark McDonough and Evan Medeiros, Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1995), p. 180; and Vipin Gupta, ‘Algeria’s Nuclear Ambitions’, International Defence Review, April 1992, p. 329.
3. Russia is a member of the NSG, but continues to supply reactors and other technology to rogue states such as Iran, and has recently agreed to provide a large ‘research reactor’ to Syria David Makovsky, ‘Iran negotiating with Russia for a reactor Ha’aretz (English), 18 February 1998. (http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng)
4. Shai Feldman, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in the Middle East (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1997) pp. 63-64
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45. Sanctions imposed for Category I violations are more stringent than those for Category II violations. Depending in the seriousness of the violation, sanctions imposed include various combinations of the following: denial of certain or all types of US export licenses; denial of certain or all import rights into the US; denial of certain or all contracting rights with the US government. See: ‘Title XVII: Missile Technology Controls, National Defence Authorisation Act for the Fiscal Year 1991,’ Public Law 101-510, 101st Congress, 1st Session, November 5,1990, United States Statute at Large 1990 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1991), pp.1389-2352. cited in Bowen. ‘US Policy on Ballistic Missile Proliferation, p. 26.
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96. See, for example, Gaffney, ‘China Arms the