Updated December 13, 2007
Congress has long been concerned about whether U.S. policy advances the national interest in reducing the role of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missiles that could deliver them. Recipients of China's technology reportedly include Pakistan and countries that the State Department says support terrorism, such as Iran and North Korea. This CRS Report, updated as warranted, discusses the security problem of China's role in weapons proliferation and issues related to the U.S. policy response since the mid-1990s. China has taken some steps to mollify U.S. concerns about its role in weapons proliferation. Nonetheless, supplies from China have aggravated trends that result in ambiguous technical aid, more indigenous capabilities, longer-range missiles, and secondary (retransferred) proliferation. According to unclassified reports to Congress by the intelligence community, China has been a "key supplier" of weapons technology, particularly missile or chemical technology.
Policy issues in seeking PRC cooperation have concerned summits, sanctions, and satellite exports. On November 21, 2000, the Clinton Administration agreed to waive missile proliferation sanctions, resume processing licenses to export satellites to China, and discuss an extension of the bilateral space launch agreement, in return for another promise from China on missile nonproliferation. However, ongoing PRC proliferation activities again raised questions about sanctions. In contrast to the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration repeatedly has imposed sanctions on PRC "entities" for troublesome transfers. On 19 occasions, the Administration has imposed sanctions on 32 different PRC "entities" (not the government) for transfers (related to missiles and chemical weapons) to Pakistan, Iran, or another country, including repeated sanctions on some "serial proliferators." Among those sanctions, in September 2001, the Administration imposed missile proliferation sanctions that effectively denied satellite exports (for two years), after a PRC company transferred technology to Pakistan, despite the November 2000 promise. In September 2003, the State Department imposed additional sanctions on NORINCO, a defense industrial entity, effectively denying satellite exports to China. However, for six times, the State Department waived this sanction for the ban on imports of other PRC government products related to missiles, space systems, electronics, and military aircraft, and then issued a permanent waiver in March 2007.
Skeptics question whether China's cooperation in weapons nonproliferation has warranted President Bush's pursuit of closer bilateral ties. In this relationship, 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. Moreover, sanctions target "entities" but not the PRC government. China did not join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The 110th Congress passed H.R. 1 (P.L. 110-53) that included language to encourage China's participation in PSI. Since 2002, Bush has relied on China's "considerable influence" on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons, and Beijing has hosted the Six-Party Talks. China has pursued balanced positions on North Korea and Iran, but also evolved to vote for U.N. Security Council sanctions against nuclear proliferation.
Contents Purpose and Scope PRC Proliferation Challenges Partial Nonproliferation Commitments Continuing Concerns and Intelligence Report Nuclear Technology Sales to Pakistan Overview Ring Magnets and Another Pledge Other Nuclear Cooperation A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network Missile Technology Sales to Pakistan Overview M-11 Missiles and Another Pledge Missile Plants and MRBMs Nuclear Technology Sales to Iran Overview Canceled Nuclear Projects 1997 Promise Uranium Enrichment UNSC Sanctions on Iran Missile Technology Sales to Iran Overview Clinton Administration Bush Administration Chemical Sales to Iran North Korea's Missile and Nuclear Weapons Programs Suspected Missile Supplies Secret Nuclear Programs PRC Ports and Airspace Military Relations Overview: Trilateral and Six-Party Talks in Beijing Missile Technology Sales to Libya Missile Technology Sales to Syria Missile Technology Sales to Iraq Policy Issues and Options Issues for Policy Debate The PRC Government's Role Foreign and Defense Policies Summits Counter-Terrorism Campaign Missile Defense Proliferation Security Initiative and 9/11 Commission Export Control Assistance Linkage to the Taiwan Question Economic Controls Satellite Exports Sanctions and the "Helms Amendment" Capital Markets Nuclear Cooperation and U.S. Export of Reactors U.S. Import Controls U.S. Export Controls Nonproliferation and Arms Control Nonproliferation Regimes (MTCR, NSG, etc.) CTBT and Fissile Materials Production International Lending List of Tables Table 1. PRC Entities Sanctioned for Weapons Proliferation
China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues
Purpose and Scope
Congress has long been concerned about whether U.S. policy advances U.S. security interests in reducing the role of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missiles as well as obtaining China's cooperation in weapons nonproliferation. This problem refers to the threat of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and missiles that could deliver them. Some have argued that certain PRC transfers violated international treaties or guidelines, and/or have contravened various U.S. laws requiring sanctions to shore up those international standards. Even if no laws or treaties are violated, many view China's transfers as threatening U.S. security interests. Using a variety of unclassified consultations and sources, this CRS Report discusses the national security problem of the PRC's role in weapons proliferation and issues related to the U.S. policy response, including legislation, since the mid-1990s. Table 1, at the end of this report, summarizes the U.S. sanctions imposed or waived on PRC entities or the PRC government for weapons proliferation. For a discussion of the policy problem in the 1980s to 1996, see CRS Report 96-767, Chinese Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Background and Analysis, by Shirley Kan. See also, by the same author, CRS Report 98-485, China: Possible Missile Technology Transfers Under U.S. Satellite Export Policy--Actions and Chronology.
PRC Proliferation Challenges
Partial Nonproliferation Commitments
Since 1991, Beijing has taken steps to address U.S. and other countries' concerns by increasing its partial participation in international nonproliferation regimes and issuing export control regulations. However, questions have remained. China first promised tentatively to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in November 1991 and February 1992 and later reaffirmed that commitment in an October 4, 1994 joint statement with the United States. The MTCR, set up in 1987, is not an international agreement and has no legal authority, leaving issues about U.S. sanctions to shore up the standards unresolved. It is a set of voluntary guidelines that seeks to control the transfer of ballistic and cruise missiles that are inherently capable of delivering at least a 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload to at least 300 km (186 mi), called "Category I" or "MTCR-class" missiles. It was unclear whether China adhered to the revised MTCR guidelines of 1993 calling for the presumption to deny transfers of any missiles capable of delivering any WMD (not just nuclear weapons). A 1996 State Department fact sheet said that China unilaterally committed to controlling exports "consistent with the MTCR Guidelines and Annex," with the MTCR consisting of a common export control policy (Guidelines) applied to a common list of controlled items (Annex). However, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report of September 11, 2000, said the State Department had argued to Congress that China agreed to the MTCR Guidelines, but not the Annex.
On November 21, 2000, Beijing said that it has no intention of assisting any other country in developing ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons (missiles with payloads of at least 500 kg and ranges of at least 300 km) and promised to issue missile-related export controls "as soon as possible." After a contentious period that saw new U.S. sanctions, the PRC finally published those regulations and the control list (modeled on the MTCR) on August 25, 2002, as Washington and Beijing prepared for a Bush-Jiang summit on October 25, 2002. In 2004, China applied to join the MTCR but has not been accepted as a member.
China acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on March 9, 1992. The NPT does not ban peaceful nuclear projects. On May 11, 1996, the PRC issued a statement promising to make only safeguarded nuclear transfers. China, on July 30, 1996, began a moratorium on nuclear testing and signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996 but (like the United States) has not ratified it. Premier Li Peng issued nuclear export control regulations on September 10, 1997. On October 16, 1997, China joined the Zangger Committee (on nuclear trade). Also in October 1997, China promised not to start new nuclear cooperation with Iran. On June 6, 1998, the U.N. Security Council (including China) adopted Resolution 1172, asking states to prevent exports to India or Pakistan's nuclear weapon or missile programs. The PRC issued regulations on dual-use nuclear exports on June 17, 1998. In May 2004, China applied to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which accepted China as a member after the Bush Administration decided to support China, despite congressional concerns.
In November 1995, China issued its first public defense white paper, which focused on arms control and disarmament. Also, China signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in January 1993. On April 25, 1997, China deposited its instrument of ratification of the CWC, before it entered into force on April 29, 1997. From 1993 to1998, the PRC issued export control regulations on chemicals. On October 14, 2002, on the eve of a Bush-Jiang summit, the PRC issued regulations for export controls over dual-use biological agents and related technology. On December 3, 2003, China issued a white paper on nonproliferation, which stated that its control lists are almost the same as those of the Zangger Committee, NSG, CWC, Australia Group, and MTCR.
Continuing Concerns and Intelligence Report
Nevertheless, China is not a member of the MTCR or the Australia Group (AG) (on chemical and biological weapons). (In June 2004, China expressed willingness to join the MTCR.) China did not join the 93 countries in signing the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation in The Hague on November 25, 2002. China has not joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) announced by President Bush on May 31, 2003. PRC weapons proliferation has persisted, aggravating trends that result in more ambiguous technical assistance (vs. transfers of hardware), longer range missiles, more indigenous capabilities, and secondary (i.e., retransferred) proliferation.
The Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) noted that, for July-December 1996, "China was the most significant supplier of WMD-related goods and technology to foreign countries." As required by Section 721 of the FY1997 Intelligence Authorization Act, P.L. 104-293, the DCI's report to Congress, "Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions," has named China (plus North Korea and Russia) as "key suppliers" of dangerous technology. Subsequent discussions of this required report refer to this "Section 721 report." Original legislation required a semi-annual report. The FY2004 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 108-177) changed the requirement to an annual report. The Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis submitted the latest Section 721 report to Congress in May 2006 to cover the year of 2004. (1)
Nuclear Technology Sales to Pakistan
Overview. In 1996, U.S. policymakers faced the issue of whether to impose sanctions on the PRC for technology transfers to Pakistan's nuclear program, and Beijing issued another nuclear nonproliferation pledge. Since then, the United States has maintained concerns--but at a lower level--about continued PRC nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, particularly involving the construction of nuclear power plants at Chashma. The PRC government is believed to know about some, if not all, of the ongoing nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. Nonetheless, in 2004, the Bush Administration supported China's application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), despite Congressional concerns about China's failure to apply the NSG's "full-scope safeguards" to its nuclear projects in Pakistan. (Full-scope safeguards apply IAEA inspections to all other declared nuclear facilities in addition to the facility importing supplies in order to prevent diversions to any weapon programs.)
Ring Magnets and Another Pledge. In 1996, some in Congress called for sanctions after reports disclosed that China sold unsafeguarded ring magnets to Pakistan, apparently in violation of the NPT and in contradiction of U.S. laws, including the Arms Export Control Act (P.L. 90-629) and Export-Import Bank Act (P.L. 79-173), as amended by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1994 (Title VIII of P.L. 103-236). On February 5, 1996, the Washington Times disclosed intelligence reports that the China National Nuclear Corporation, a state-owned corporation, transferred to the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratory in Kahuta, Pakistan, 5,000 ring magnets that can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. Reportedly, intelligence experts believed that the magnets provided to Pakistan were to be used in special suspension bearings at the top of rotating cylinders in the centrifuges. The New York Times, on May 12, 1996, reported that the shipment was made after June 1994 and was worth $70,000. The PRC company involved was China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, a subsidiary of the China National
Nuclear Corporation. The State Department's report on nonproliferation efforts in South Asia (issued on January 21, 1997) confirmed that "between late 1994 and mid-1995, a Chinese entity transferred a large number of ring magnets to Pakistan for use in its uranium enrichment program."
The Clinton Administration's decision-making was complicated by considerations of U.S. corporations doing business in China. Officials reportedly considered imposing then waiving sanctions or focusing sanctions only on the China National Nuclear Corporation, rather than large-scale sanctions affecting the entire PRC government and U.S. companies, such as Westinghouse Electric Corporation (which had deals pending with China National Nuclear Corporation) and Boeing Aircraft Company. At the end of February 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher instructed the Export-Import Bank to suspend financing for commercial deals in China for one month, reported the New York Times (February 29, 1996). Christopher reportedly required time to try to obtain more information to make a determination of whether sanctions would be required. Meanwhile, DCI John Deutch reportedly said at a White House meeting that PRC officials at some level likely approved the sale of magnets. Defense Secretary William Perry supported this view, but officials of the Commerce and Treasury Departments and the U.S. Trade Representative argued there was lack of solid proof, according to the Washington Post (April 1, 1996).
On May 10, 1996, the State Department announced that China and Pakistan would not be sanctioned, citing a new agreement with China. Clinton Administration officials said that China promised to provide future assistance only to safeguarded nuclear facilities, reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, and agreed to consultations on export control and proliferation issues. The Administration also said that PRC leaders insisted they were not aware of the magnet transfer and that there was no evidence that the PRC government had willfully aided or abetted Pakistan's nuclear weapon program through the magnet transfer. Thus, the State Department announced that sanctions were not warranted, and Export-Import Bank considerations of loans for U.S. exporters to China were returned to normal. On May 11, 1996, China's foreign ministry issued a statement that "China will not provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities." In any case, since 1984, China has declared a policy of nuclear nonproliferation and a requirement for recipients of its transfers to accept IAEA safeguards, and China acceded to the NPT in 1992.
That year, Congress responded to the Administration's determination not to impose sanctions by adding language on "persons" in the Export-Import Bank Act, as amended by Section 1303 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY1997 (P.L. 104-201), enacted on September 23, 1996.
Other Nuclear Cooperation. On October 9, 1996, the Washington Times reported that a CIA report dated September 14, 1996, said that China sold a "special industrial furnace" and "high-tech diagnostic equipment" to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in Pakistan. In September 1996, PRC technicians in Pakistan reportedly prepared to install the dual-use equipment. The deal was allegedly made by the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, the same firm which sold the ring magnets. Those who suspected that the transfer was intended for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program said that high temperature furnaces are used to mold uranium or plutonium. The CIA report was said to state that "senior-level government approval probably was needed" and that PRC officials planned to submit false documentation on the final destination of the equipment. According to the press, the CIA report said that the equipment was set to arrive in early September 1996. The Washington Post, on October 10, 1996, further reported that the equipment was intended for a nuclear reactor to be completed by 1998 at Khushab in Pakistan. On October 9, 1996, the State Department said that it had not concluded that China violated its promise of May 11, 1996. However, the State Department did not publicly address whether the suspected transfers occurred before May 11, 1996, violated the NPT, or contradicted U.S. laws (including the Arms Export Control Act, Export-Import Bank Act, and the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act).
Concerns have persisted about PRC assistance to Pakistan's nuclear facilities. As reported by Pakistani and PRC news sources in 1992, China began to build a nuclear power plant at Chashma and was suspected in 1994 of helping Pakistan to build an unsafeguarded, plutonium-producing reactor at Khushab, according to Nucleonics Week (June 19, 1997 and February 26, 1998). Operational since 2001, the Chashma reactor has IAEA safeguards but not full scope safeguards (Nucleonics Week, April 26, 2001; and IAEA, Annual Report 2001).
Referring specifically to Pakistan's efforts to acquire equipment, materials, and technology for its nuclear weapons program, the DCI's June 1997 "Section 721 report" for the last half of 1996 (after China's May 1996 pledge) stated that China was the "principal supplier." Then, on May 11 and 13, 1998, India conducted nuclear tests, citing China's nuclear ties to Pakistan, and Pakistan followed with nuclear tests on May 28 and 30, 1998. China, as Pakistan's principal military and nuclear supplier, failed to avert the tests and did not cut off nuclear aid, but condemned the tests at the U.N. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's annual report on arms control for 1998 stated that "there continued to be some contacts between Chinese entities and Pakistan's unsafeguarded and nuclear weapons program."
In 2000, news reports said that some former U.S. nonproliferation and intelligence officials suspected that China provided equipment for Pakistan's secret heavy water production plant at Khushab, where an unsafeguarded reactor reportedly started up in April 1998 and has generated weapons-grade plutonium. Clinton Administration officials at the White House and State Department reportedly denied China's involvement but said that they did not know the origins of the plant. (2) The DCI reported in November 2003 that, in the first half of 2003, continued contacts between PRC entities and "entities associated with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program" cannot be ruled out, despite the PRC's 1996 promise not to assist unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. 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, thus implying that there are cases in which the PRC government has knowledge of the relationships.
On May 5, 2004, China signed a contract to build a second nuclear power reactor (Chashma-2) in Pakistan. This contract raised questions because of continuing PRC nuclear cooperation with Pakistan and its signing right before a decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on China's membership, with U.S. support. With a pre-existing contract, Chashma-2 would be exempted from the NSG's requirement for full-scope safeguards (not just IAEA safeguards on the reactor). (3) (See Nonproliferation Regimes below for policy discussion.)
A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network. China's past and persisting connections to Pakistan's nuclear program raised questions about whether China was involved in or had knowledge about the long-time efforts, publicly confirmed in early 2004, of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear weapon program, in selling uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. DCI George Tenet confirmed A.Q. Khan's network of nuclear trade in open testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 24, 2004.
China's association was raised particularly because China was an early recipient of the uranium enrichment technology Khan acquired in Europe. (4) Also, there were questions about whether China shared intelligence with the United States about Khan's nuclear technology transfers. With the troubling disclosures, China could be more willing to cooperate on nonproliferation or could be reluctant to confirm its involvement. A senior Pakistani diplomat was quoted as saying that, while in Beijing in 2002, PRC officials said they knew "A.Q. Khan was in China and bribing people, and they wanted him out." (5) Particularly troubling was the reported intelligence finding in early 2004 that Khan sold Libya a nuclear bomb design that he received from China in the early 1980s (in return for giving China his centrifuge technology), a design that China had already tested in 1966 and had developed as a compact nuclear bomb for delivery on a missile. (6) That finding raised the additional question of whether Khan also sold that bomb design to others, including Iran and North Korea. DCI Porter Goss testified in February 2005 that the Bush Administration continued to explore opportunities to learn about Khan's nuclear trade, adding that "getting to the end of that trail is extremely important for us. It is a serious proliferation question." (7)
Missile Technology Sales to Pakistan
Overview. From the early 1990s to 2000, the George H.W. Bush and Clinton Administrations faced the issue of whether to impose sanctions on PRC "entities" for transferring M-11 short-range ballistic missiles or related technology to Pakistan. The Clinton Administration took eight years to determine in 2000 that PRC entities had transferred complete M-11 missiles as well as technology to Pakistan, but waived sanctions in return for another missile nonproliferation pledge from Beijing. However, despite that promise of November 2000, the United States has continued concerns about PRC technology transfers that have helped Pakistan to build domestic missile programs, including development of medium-range ballistic missiles. In September 2001, the George W. Bush Administration imposed sanctions for PRC proliferation of missile technology to Pakistan, denying satellite exports to China.
M-11 Missiles and Another Pledge. Transfers of the PRC's M-11 short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) or related equipment exceed MTCR guidelines, because the M-11 has the inherent capability to deliver a 500 kg (1,100 lb) warhead to 300 km (186 mi). Issues about U.S. sanctions have included the questions of whether PRC transfers to Pakistan involved M-11 missile-related technology (Category II of the MTCR) or complete missiles (Category I). Sanctions for missile-related transfers are mandated under Section 73(a) of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and Section 11B(b)(1) of the Export Administration Act (EAA) (as amended by the FY1991 National Defense Authorization Act).
In June 1991, the Bush Administration first imposed sanctions on entities in China for transferring M-11 technology to Pakistan. Sanctions affected exports of supercomputers, satellites, and missile technology. The Administration later waived the sanctions on March 23, 1992. On August 24, 1993, the Clinton Administration determined that China had again transferred M-11 equipment (not whole missiles) to Pakistan and imposed new sanctions (affecting exports of some satellites). On October 4, 1994, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen signed a joint statement, saying that Washington would waive the August 1993 sanctions and Beijing would not export "ground-to-ground missiles" "inherently capable" of delivering a 500 kg warhead 300 km. The Administration waived the sanctions on November 1, 1994.
However, contentious policy questions about imposing sanctions for the 1992 transfer of complete M-11 SRBMs (not just components) persisted until 2000. The Washington Times (March 14, 1997) said "numerous" intelligence reports indicated that M-11 missiles were "operational" in Pakistan, but these findings were disputed by some policymakers. Secretary of Defense William Cohen issued a Pentagon report in 1997 stating that Pakistan acquired "SRBMs" as well as related equipment from China in the early 1990s. (8) In a 1998 report to Congress on nuclear nonproliferation in South Asia, the State Department acknowledged its concerns about "reports that M-11 missiles were transferred from China to Pakistan" but added that it had not determined that such transfers occurred, "which would be sanctionable under U.S. law." (9) Gordon Oehler, former head …