Issues for Policy
Weapons proliferation by the PRC and/or its organizations raises policy issues concerning: (1) assessments of the nature and seriousness of the PRC government's role in the proliferation threat; (2) the priority of this issue relative to other U.S. interests (i.e., other security issues, Taiwan, trade, human rights); and (3) U.S. leadership and leverage (including the use of sanctions and diplomacy, and congressional actions) to obtain China's cooperation in nonproliferation.
Debate. Successive Administrations have pursued a policy of "engagement" with Beijing. Some policymakers and advocates stress a cooperative approach. In 1998, President Clinton issued certifications to implement the 1985 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. The Clinton Administration also encouraged the PRC to join the MTCR and proposed to allow more PRC satellite launches. In November 2000, the State Department agreed to waive sanctions and consider new satellite exports in return for another missile non-proliferation pledge from China. Some officials and experts cite PRC nonproliferation statements as signs that the United States made progress in nonproliferation goals. Some also say that U.S. sanctions are counterproductive and are too broad. Rather, they note that China needs to recognize nonproliferation for its own national interests and develop stronger export controls, perhaps with U.S. assistance. Also, some stress that China would be more cooperative if brought in to draw up "the rules." Some argue that "entities" in China largely operate without the PRC government's knowledge.
Critics argue that the "engagement" policy needs a tougher approach to counter China's activities that undermine U.S. security interests. They note that PRC weapons proliferation activities have continued and repeated PRC assurances have proved to be unreliable. Also, they say that U.S. security interests are better served with a stronger approach to deter China's transfers, which may include appropriate sanctions. Some argue that the United States should not "subsidize" China's missile and nuclear industries. These proponents tend to see the U.S. position as stronger than China's. Some are skeptical that China sees nonproliferation as in its national interest, since Beijing has made progress in nonproliferation commitments as part of improving relations with Washington (surrounding summits) and tried to use its sales as a form of leverage against Washington, especially on the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. They note that PRC export controls are weak, even as government repression can be harsh (e.g., against Falungong practitioners). They also doubt that trade in sensitive nuclear weapons and missile technology can continue without the knowledge of the PRC government and/or its military, especially given the status of certain state-owned and defense-industrial enterprises as "serial proliferators."
The PRC Government's Role. Concerning the debate about any knowledge or approval of the PRC government, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19, 2002, DCI George Tenet told Senator Carl Levin that while PRC firms sometimes operate on their own, there are instances in which "activities are condoned by the government." The DCI's January 2003 report to Congress noted that PRC entities could have continued contacts with Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities "without Beijing's knowledge or permission," but this comment was dropped from the April 2003 report. The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 24, 2004, that PRC entities "remain involved with nuclear and missile programs in Pakistan and Iran," while "in some cases," the entities are involved without the government's knowledge, implying that there might be cases in which the PRC government has knowledge of the relationships. The Bush Administration waived missile proliferation sanctions on certain activities of the PRC government on September 19, 2003; September 18, 2004; and March 18, 2005.
No matter what options are pursued, many argue that U.S. leadership and a forward-looking and credible strategy are needed for dealing with China's rising influence in world affairs. A strategic approach might underpin short-term responses to violations and use both positive and negative sources of leverage. Policy issues have often centered on summitry, sanctions, and satellite exports.
Foreign and Defense Policies
Summits. After the downturn in U.S.-PRC relations because of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, the Clinton Administration resumed high-level exchanges in 1993 and argued that "comprehensive engagement" with China advances U.S. security goals, including nonproliferation. President Clinton granted Jiang Zemin summits in Washington, on October 29, 1997, and in Beijing, on June 29, 1998. Leading up to the 1997 summit, the Administration urged China to adopt "comprehensive, nationwide regulations on nuclear export control." China responded by implementing a set of regulations on nuclear export controls signed by Premier Li Peng on September 10, 1997. The regulations permit nuclear exports to only facilities under IAEA safeguards. China also joined the Zangger Committee (on nuclear trade) on October 16, 1997. Then, China issued new export control regulations on dual-use nuclear items on June 17, 1998. The 1998 summit in Beijing produced an agreement on non-targeting nuclear weapons, and joint statements on South Asia and on biological weapons. But China refused to join the MTCR, saying that it was "actively studying" whether to join.
President Bush raised the unresolved missile proliferation issue in Shanghai in October 2001 and in Beijing in February 2002. As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Beijing to discuss the Bush-Jiang summit in Crawford, TX, on October 25, 2002, China, on August 25, 2002, published the missile export control regulations promised in November 2000, along with a control list that is modeled on the MTCR. In addition, on October 14, 2002, the PRC issued regulations for export controls over dual-use biological agents. China continued to approach weapon nonproliferation as more a part of the U.S.-PRC relationship than a commitment to international nonproliferation standards. At that summit, President Bush called China an "ally" in the fight against terrorism.
With the improvement in U.S.-PRC relations, however, some observers say that President Bush has not forcefully pressed China's leaders on weapons nonproliferation as a priority issue, even while imposing numerous U.S. sanctions. (49) Briefing reporters on President Bush's meeting with PRC President Hu Jintao in France on June 1, 2003, a senior White House official acknowledged that the two leaders did not discuss U.S. sanctions on NORINCO (which the Administration had just imposed on May 23, 2003, for missile technology transfers to Iran) and that President Hu did not respond to Bush's general concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program. (50) In Thailand in October 2003, at another meeting between the two presidents, Bush noted that they had a "very constructive dialogue" on trade, Iraq, counter-terrorism, and North Korea, but he did not mention weapons proliferation as an issue with China, although the Administration had imposed another set of missile proliferation sanctions on NORINCO a month earlier. (51) While the White House hosted PRC Premier Wen Jiabao on December 9, 2003, a senior official told reporters that "the President applauded the new Chinese white paper on nonproliferation but noted that there is a need for tough implementation of the commitments contained in that white paper" (just issued on December 3, 2003, on the eve of Wen's visit). But again, Bush did not highlight the issue of weapons proliferation with China in his public remarks. (52)
Counter-Terrorism Campaign. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, added a compelling U.S. interest in considering U.S. policy on PRC weapons proliferation. With questions about the viability of Pakistan's government after it gave strong support to the anti-terrorism war, the United States could seek intelligence from the PRC about Pakistan's nuclear weapons as well as cooperation in not further adding to instability in South Asia. Also, the Bush Administration could maintain or strengthen its response to the proliferation problem, since PRC entities have reportedly transferred nuclear, missile, and/or chemical weapons technology to sponsors of terrorism (listed by the State Department), such as Iran. If the Administration lifts sanctions for cooperating countries, options include waiving proliferation sanctions on the PRC. (Also see CRS Report RL33001, U.S.-China Counter-Terrorism Cooperation: Issues for U.S. Policy, by Shirley Kan.)
In his January 29, 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush identified the two primary threats as terrorism and weapons proliferation. He then issued the National Security Strategy on September 20, 2002, warning:
The gravest …