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Fueling the Nuclear Dragon:
America Bargains Away National Security

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

The recent dinner for Chinese President Jiang Zemin brought together the biggest names in American business and commerce to celebrate new advances in trade and improved relations with China. It seemed appropriate that the military musicians serenaded the gatherers with "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'" and "It Ain't Necessarily So."

President Clinton announced that he will implement the Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed with China in 1985, despite the fact that it was not previously put into effect because of concerns as to whether Beijing would live up to its provisions.

Under U.S. law, the president must certify to Congress that "China has provided clear and unequivocal assurances to the United States that it is not assisting and will not assist any non-nuclear weapons state, either directly or indirectly, in acquiring nuclear explosive devices or the materials and components for such devices."

The decision of President Clinton will mean billions of dollars in new sales for U.S. firms such as Westinghouse, ABB and General Electric, which lobbied vigorously for over one year for the right to sell to China. This lobbying has resulted in the export of items that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

By certifying this sale of nuclear technology, President Clinton has departed from the policies of former Presidents Reagan and Bush who had been unwilling to make the congressionally required certification.

Clinton said he made the decision to certify this controversial sale as a result of assurances which came privately during the summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, that China would not sell such technology to hostile powers like Iran. China itself has not made any such public promises.

Jiang's private declarations are difficult to reconcile with China's actions concerning such international agreements. During the Reagan administration, then Vice-Premier Li Peng represented, "China has no intention, either at the present or in the future, to help non-nuclear countries develop nuclear weapons." Yet during the time China was negotiating and signing the 1985 agreement with the United States, China arranged to provide an unsafeguarded plutonium production reactor to Algeria and commenced construction of the then secret facility.

Even after China became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, it continued to export unsafeguarded nuclear contraband to Pakistan.

China also has a disreputable history of misrepresenting the use of the U.S. technology it has purchased. In one case, a Sun Microsystems supercomputer illegally found its way to a Chinese military facility. In a similar manner, machine tools sold by McDonnell Douglas to a Chinese firm were later discovered to be located not at an airplane plant, but at a manufacturing plant for Silkworm cruise missiles.

Moreover, China seems to have a nasty habit of reselling technology to other nations. It sold precursors for chemical weapons to Iran, and missiles and ring magnets used to process uranium to Pakistan. Such trade led the CIA in June to conclude, "China was the single most important supplier of equipment and technology for weapons of mass destruction."

In dealing with China, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. The need for suspicion is underscored by China's persistent denial when confronted with facts that demonstrate human rights violations and religious oppression. During his entire visit to our country, Jiang never displayed a trace of regret over any of the various human rights violations. In fact, he went so far as to make a statement where he described the actions at Tiananmen Square as necessary and proper. In addition, while meeting with members of Congress, Jiang flatly denied the existence of atrocities such as widespread religious persecution and trafficking in human organs that have occurred in his country.

It is specifically because of China's record of outright violation of non-proliferation commitments, misuse of technology, peddling of weapons of mass destruction and disregard for human rights that this certification is ludicrous. The Administration, in order to satisfy commercial lobbying interests and clandestine campaign related pacts with Beijing's leaders, has made this momentous decision solely on the basis of Jiang's private promises while ignoring the solid evidence of threats to our national security.

The promoters of nuclear trade with China assure us that the U.S. can commence the sale of nuclear technology to China, arguing that if China is found to be in violation of the agreement, commerce can always be halted. However, since China has demonstrated the ability and willingness to copy technology, a small number of nuclear devices could be appropriated from the United States, and the technology could then be employed to construct and sell home grown nuclear materials.

Lifting restrictions on nuclear trade with China has produced a manifest danger to the security interests of the United States. China's recent behavior all but guarantees that U.S. nuclear technology and materials could wind up in the weapons programs of countries that harbor hostility towards us. By certifying the sale of nuclear reactors and fuel to China prematurely, we have sent a message to other nations that the United States is prepared to bend its own laws and policies and sacrifice the security of its citizens for a price.

Copyright © 1999 -
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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