Assessing Chinese Nonproliferation Policy: Progress, Problems and Issues for the United States

Dr. Jing-dong Yuan
January 4, 2002

Prepared Statement for the US-China Security Review Commission
Hearing on China’s Proliferation Policies
The Dirksen Senate Office Building
1:30-3:30 pm, October 12, 2001


Chairman D’Amato, Chairman Bryen, distinguished commissioners, I am greatly honored to testify before the US-China Security Review Commission. I salute the Commission’s efforts to better understand a critical issue in current Sino-US relations – China’s proliferation policy and behavior, and welcome the opportunity to share with you some of my personal views. I come from one of the World’s leading non-governmental organizations devoted to nonproliferation research and analysis. The mission of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies is to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction by training the next generation of nonproliferation specialists and disseminating timely information and analysis.

The testimony will focus on the evolution of Chinese nonproliferation policy over the last decade. During this period, a number of positive developments have taken place. These include China’s accession to major international arms control and nonproliferation treaties; bilateral nonproliferation commitments given to the US; and new domestic regulations governing exports of nuclear, chemical and dual-use materials and technologies. These developments have been prompted by Beijing’s growing recognition of proliferation threats; an acute concern over its international image; its assessment of how progress in nonproliferation could promote better Sino-US bilateral relations; and by US nonproliferation initiatives aimed at influencing Chinese behavior.

Needless to say, significant problems remain and continue to haunt Sino-US relations. Beijing has different perspectives on arms control and nonproliferation and tends to interpret its commitments narrowly. There are continuing controversies over Chinese transfers of nuclear, chemical, and missile components and technologies to countries of proliferation concern. Beijing is also increasingly linking fulfillment of its nonproliferation commitments to changes in US policy in arms sales to Taiwan and missile defenses. This gap between Beijing’s policy declarations and its actual practices has presented successive US administrations with serious challenges.

The rest of this presentation is organized into three parts and addresses key issues raised by the Commission. I conclude with some general observations and policy recommendations. The three parts include:

  • A brief overview of the evolution of Chinese nonproliferation policy over the past decade.
  • A discussion of China’s continuing involvement in proliferation activities, the underlying rationales, and strategic considerations.
  • An analysis of the effectiveness of US policy in influencing Chinese nonproliferation policy and behavior.


In the 1980s, China emerged as one of the leading suppliers of arms and dual-use technologies. Towards the end of the 1980s, revelations of Chinese nuclear and missile transfers to countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and South Asia raised serious proliferation concerns and were a contributing factor in the “China threat” debate in the United States.[1] Among the controversial Chinese arms transfers were the sale of the Dong Feng 3 (CSS-2) intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, HY-2 (Silkworm) anti-ship missiles to Iran, the nuclear reactor deal with Algeria, and missile related transfers to Pakistan.

Since the end of the Cold War, Beijing has made gradual yet significant progress in its nonproliferation policy, specifically in three key areas:

  • accession to major international arms control and nonproliferation treaties and conventions;
  • bilateral arrangements with the United States pledging Chinese commitment to missile nonproliferation; and
  • promulgation of domestic export control regulations.

An important indicator of China’s acceptance of international nonproliferation norms can be found in its participation in major international treaties and conventions (see Table 1). Since the early 1990s China has joined the NPT (1992), signed (1993) and ratified (1997) the CWC, and signed the CTBT (1996). Beijing has on various occasions enunciated in clear terms the three principles governing its nuclear exports: (1) IAEA safeguards; (2) peaceful use; and (3) no re-transfers to a third country without China’s prior consent. In May 1996, the Chinese government further pledged not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. In October 1997, China formally joined the Zangger Committee.

Beijing has also reached a number of bilateral agreements and understanding with the United States pledging adherence to the original 1987 MTCR guidelines, including a commitment not to export missiles “inherently capable of reaching a range of at least 300 km with a payload of at least 500 kg.”[2] In addition, China promised in a statement last November that it would not assist states in developing “ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons” and that it would issue “at an early date” a “comprehensive” list of missile-related and dual-use items that would require government licenses for export.[3]

Table 1. China and International Nonproliferation Regimes

International Treaties and Negotiations Multilateral Export Control Regimes
Acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), March 1992 Pledged to abide by the original 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines in February 1992
Signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), January 1993; ratified CWC and joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as a founding member, April 1997 Agreed in the October 1994 US-China joint statement to adhere to the MTCR and agreed to apply the concept of “inherent capability” to its missile exports
Participated in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms from 1993 to 1997 Officially joined the Zangger Committee, October 1997
Indicated in the US-China joint statement of October 1994 support of the negotiation and “earliest possible achievement” of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) Promulgated the Regulations on Nuclear Export Control in September 1997; and the Regulations on Export Control of Dual-Use Nuclear Goods and Related Technologies in June 1998.
Supported the indefinite extension of the NPT, May 1995 Announced a series of decrees and circulars governing chemical exports: Circular on Strengthened Chemical Export Controls (August 1997); Decree No.1 of the State Petroleum and Chemical Industry Administration (June 1998).
Signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), September 1996 Issued the Regulations on Export Control of Military Items in October 1997
Went along with strengthened International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, 1997 (although it has yet to endorse IAEA full-scope safeguards) US-China official talks during 1997-1998 on China’s possible membership in the MTCR

Sources: Adapted from database compiled by the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Another significant development in China’s evolution toward international nonproliferation norms over the last decade has been the introduction of domestic export control regulations (see Table 2). Beginning with the May 1994 Foreign Trade Law, the Chinese government has issued a series of regulations, decrees, and circulars. Taken together, they constitute a nascent export control system (although China has still not promulgated the laws governing missile technology exports that it promised in November 2000).[4] In addition, there has been institutional development indicating clearly that arms control and nonproliferation is increasingly assuming a higher profile in the making of China’s national security policy. In April 1997, a new Department of Arms Control and Disarmament was established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). And there has been increasing coordination among MFA, MOFTEC (Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation), and CAEA (China Atomic Energy Agency) officials in implementing export control regulations.[5]

Table 2. Evolution of China’s Export Control System in the 1990s

  • Foreign Trade Law, 1994
Chemical & Dual-Use
  • Regulations on Chemical Export Controls, December 1995
  • Supplement to the December 1995 regulations, March 1997
  • A ministerial circular (executive decree) on strengthening chemical export controls, August 1997
  • Decree No.1 of the State Petroleum and Chemical Industry Administration (regarding chemical export controls), June 1998 (Note: These regulations have expanded the coverage of China’s chemical export controls to include dual-use chemicals covered by the Australia Group)
Nuclear & Dual-Use
  • Circular on Strict Implementation of China’s Nuclear Export Policy, May 1997
  • Regulations on Nuclear Export Control, September 1997 (Note: The control list included in the 1997 regulations is identical to that used by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to which China is not a member)
  • Regulations on Export Control of Dual-Use Nuclear Goods and Related Technologies, June 1998
Military & Dual-Use
  • Regulations on Export Control of Military Items, October 1997
  • The Procedures for the Management of Restricted Technology Export, November 1998 (Note: The new regulations cover 183 dual-use technologies, including some on the Wassenaar Arrangement’s “core list” of dual-use technologies)
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economics Cooperation (MOFTEC) released a Catalogue of Technologies which are Restricted or Banned in China, presumably also in late 1998

Sources: Adapted from database compiled by the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Contributing Factors to the Evolution of Chinese Policy

  • Changing Perspective on Security. China has gradually begun to realize that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and delivery systems can affect its own security interests negatively. A case in point is China’s response to the North Korean nuclear crisis. A nuclear North Korea and the potential fallout – nuclearization of Northeast Asia (with South Korea and Japan following suit) are definitely not in China’s interest. Similarly, a North Korea that continues to develop its ballistic missiles could also cause instability in the region, leading to reactions such as theater missile defense and Japanese participation in its development and deployment. These security concerns may explain Beijing’s role in defusing the nuclear crisis and its quiet efforts to urge Pyongyang to halt its missile test.[6]
  • Image Consideration. China’s international image is another factor. Events in the late 1980s and early 1990s created an environment under which Beijing felt obliged to move closer to the international nuclear nonproliferation norms. The revelations of Iraq’s secret nuclear weapons program, the disclosure of China’s export of a nuclear reactor to Algeria, and France’s announcement to accede to the NPT helped push China into announcing its own accession to the NPT.[7] China’s endorsement of the NPT extension and abandonment of delaying tactics (e.g., peaceful nuclear explosions and verification) in the final stage of the CTBT negotiations also provide evidence of its concern with its image as a responsible power.
  • Technology Dependence. China’s need for advanced US technologies has resulted in its undertaking the necessary policy adjustments required by Washington. One example is the negotiation and implementation of the 1985 US-China Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA). China applied for membership and later joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in early 1984. Subsequently, it declared that it would apply IAEA safeguards to all of its nuclear exports and declared three principles governing its nuclear exports – peaceful use, IAEA safeguards, and no re-transfer without China’s consent. In response to the Clinton administration’s requests related to NCA implementation, Beijing promulgated nuclear export control regulations and joined the Zangger Committee in 1997. The Clinton administration was then able to certify China’s compliance with US nonproliferation legislation, paving the way for the NCA to enter into effect in March 1998.
  • Maintaining Stable Sino-US Relations. Maintaining stable bilateral relations is also an important consideration for Beijing as it formulates its nonproliferation policy. For example, important progress was made prior to and during the Clinton-Jiang summits in 1997-1998 when bilateral relations were relatively stable and improving. China cancelled its nuclear reactor deals and halted delivery of the C-802 cruise missiles to Iran. It promulgated nuclear export control regulations and joined the Zangger Committee. These were clear efforts on China’s part to address serious. US concerns so that a better atmosphere could be created for the success of the summits and the advancement of bilateral relations.

Continuing Concerns and Controversies

Over the past decade, in particular since the mid-1990s, Chinese proliferation activities have narrowed in terms of both their scope and character. Chinese transfers have moved away from sales of complete missile systems to exports of largely dual-use nuclear, chemical, and missile components and technologies. At the same time, the number of recipient countries has also declined significantly. Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea are among the few recipient countries of Chinese nuclear, chemical, and missile related technologies.[8]

Despite these generally positive developments, serious concerns remain over China’s proliferation policy and activities. One is over Beijing’s general approach to nonproliferation principles and practices. On the one hand, China has acceded to most international treaties and conventions that are broadly based with universal membership (e.g., NPT, CWC), and has by and large complied with their norms and rules. On the other hand, it remains critical of the key multilateral export-control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group (AG), the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the MTCR and has declined to join them.

The record of Chinese proliferation activities over the past decade remains mixed and contentious.[9] These controversies draw attention to the gap between Beijing’s public pronouncement on nonproliferation and its reported proliferation activities, raising questions about China’s commitment and intentions.[10] Recent reports by the National Intelligence Council and the Central Intelligence Agency continue to identify China as one of the key suppliers of materials and technologies that contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.[11] Appendix I and Appendix II provide summaries of reported Chinese proliferation activities since the late 1980s.[12]

Explaining the Word-Deed Gap

  • Different Perspectives, Narrow Interpretation. While supporting the general principles of nonproliferation, China has often emphasized that there should be a proper balance between nonproliferation obligations and the need for legitimate peaceful use of nuclear, chemical, and space technologies. One plausible explanation therefore could be that Beijing simply views many of the controversial transfers, such as its nuclear reactor sales to Iran and Pakistan, as legitimate commercial transactions allowed by international treaties and under IAEA safeguards (even though not necessarily in compliance with full scope safeguards). At the same time, economic reform and opening up also encourage domestic defense industrial sectors to seek overseas markets for their products to compensate for the difficult defense conversion process and declining military procurement.[13] Commercial interests and a different perspective on nonproliferation therefore provide for China’s strict interpretation of its treaty obligations.
  • Geo-strategic and Commercial Interests. Geo-strategic considerations and the drive for commercial gains have been important factors behind Chinese transfer decisions. One is to expand its influence to regions of increasing importance such as the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. China’s sale of the CSS-2 to Saudi Arabia gained the latter’s diplomatic recognition. China’s resilient defense cooperation with Pakistan is manifestation of Beijing’s commitment to its loyal ally. Meanwhile, with China’s conventional arms exports suffering precipitous decline since the early 1990s, sales of ballistic and cruise missiles became a “niche” or “comparative advantage” for Beijing, given MTCR member states’ more restrictive export policy. These factors explain China’s reluctance to fully embrace missile nonproliferation norms, which could deprive it of both the geo-strategic and commercial benefits.[14]
  • Nascent Domestic Export Control System. Another reason may be the inability of the central government to monitor, much less control, the activities of various companies due to the nascent nature of the domestic export control system and ambivalence in inter-agency coordination of policy from license review to approval, to customs inspections.[15] Meanwhile, decentralization and institutional pursuit of parochial interests encourage companies to dodge regulations and even openly defy rules. The controversial sale of 5,000 ring magnets to Pakistan has often been cited as such an example of inadequate government oversight and effective control. In addition, the sheer size of the chemical industry and the growing number of dual-use items make control efforts exceedingly difficult if not entirely futile.
  • Deliberate Lapse in Enforcement. China may deliberately choose not to enforce its nonproliferation commitments as a way to retain its bargaining leverage with the United States on issues such as NMD and TMD, or simply as a retaliatory response to what it considers as an affront to its own national security interests by others. One area where this linkage operates is with US arms sales to Taiwan, where China sees continuing arms sales as a violation of the US commitment in the August 1982 communiqué. In addition, when bilateral relations experience downturn, Beijing has been less cooperative in arms control and nonproliferation. Such instances would include the release of the Cox Report charging Chinese nuclear espionage, US allegations of Chinese campaign contributions, the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and the controversial Wen-ho Lee case.
  • Issue Linkage. Finally, Beijing increasingly links further progress on proliferation issues to US actions on its security concerns. This is clearly reflected in China’s missile transfer activities. Beijing seeks to obtain tangible gains (e.g., satellite launches) in its negotiations with Washington and occasionally offers limited concessions. However, China never ignores the larger picture and has increasingly conditioned (although implicitly) its interpretation and implementation of missile nonproliferation commitment on US policy in areas of direct concern to itself, namely, arms sales to Taiwan and developments in missile defenses

Between the Carrot and the Stick: The US Role

US-Chinese disputes over nonproliferation issues remain a serious problem in bilateral relations. Over the years, successive US administrations have sought to influence Chinese policy through a combination of inducements and sanctions. These range from suspension of technology transfers and imposition of economic sanctions against selected Chinese companies implicated in violation of US laws, to incentives in the forms of technology transfers to and commercial space launch contracts with China. [16] Table 3 summarizes US sanctions against China over the years.

Despite US pressure, Beijing reportedly has continued to transfer missile components and provide assistance to countries like Pakistan and Iran. Whether or not US sanctions have been effective in affecting Chinese behavior remains inconclusive at this point. What can be said is that a mixture of US sanctions (imposed or threatened) and economic benefits (withheld or offered) have had some impact on Chinese policy and behavior.

Washington has also resorted to economic incentives as a strategy to induce change in Chinese policy. Given that an important motivation behind Chinese weapons transfers is the pursuit of commercial interests, economic incentives in the forms of technology transfers and trade benefits, and the lifting of existing sanctions can, and under the right conditions, have induced Beijing to change its proliferation policy. [17] Both the Bush and Clinton administrations have either offered to allow China greater access to US technology or waived sanctions in return for Beijing’s pledges and demonstrated actions to halt selling items and technologies of proliferation concern. Since 1989, Presidents Bush and Clinton have granted 20 waivers for US satellites to be sent into orbit by Chinese launch vehicles. [18] This practice has been used to encourage positive Chinese nonproliferation behavior by providing tangible economic benefits. Indeed, the Clinton administration specifically offered the prospect of expanding the space launch program, including waiving the post-Tiananmen sanctions on satellite launches on Chinese boosters to induce China to join the MTCR. [19]

Table 3. US Nonproliferation Sanctions Against China, 1989-2001

1 Sept 2001 Pledged to abide by the original 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines in February 1992 Imposed against China Metallurgical Equipment Corporation and its sub-units and successors for allegedly transferring missile components to Pakistan Duration of a minimum of two years
18 June 2001 Imposed against Jiangsu Yongli Chemicals and Technology Import and Export Corporation for providing to Iran technical assistance controlled by the Australia Group Imposed pursuant to the Section 3 of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000
21 May 1997 Imposed against five Chinese individuals, two Chinese companies, and one Hong Kong company for knowingly and materially contribution to Iran’s chemical weapons program Imposed pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 Duration of a minimum of one year
24 August 1993 Imposed against China’s Ministry of Aerospace Industry that had engaged in missile technology proliferation activities, and Chinese government organizations involved in development or production of electronics, space systems, or equipment and military aircraft and Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense Imposed pursuant to the 1990 Missile Technology Control Act Waived 1 November 1994; Sanctions against Pakistani Ministry of Defense expired August 1995
25 May 1991 Prohibition of the export of missile-related computer technology and satellites Imposed pursuant to the 1990 Missile Technology Control Act
Restricting the export of missile technology, missile-related computers and satellitesNo waivers on satellite export licenses
Waived 23 March 1992; Sanctions against Pakistan’s SUPARCO expired

Sources: Adapted from database compiled by the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Another example of economic incentives at work was the 1998 certification by the Clinton administration that paved the way for implementing the 1985 Sino-US agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy. [20] This allowed the US nuclear industry to tap into China’s potential billion-dollar nuclear market, as well as encourage more responsible Chinese nuclear export controls. [21] Over the years since the conclusion of the US-China NCA, successive US administrations had indicated that implementation of the agreement required China to make specific nonproliferation commitments. Persistent US efforts gradually brought about noticeable change in Chinese nonproliferation policy. In May 1996, China made a formal pledge not to provide nuclear and dual-use assistance to unsafeguarded foreign facilities. In addition, China phased out its nuclear cooperation programs with Iran by suspending the sale of two 300-megawatt Qinshan-type nuclear power reactors, canceling the transfer of a uranium conversion facility, and turning down Iranian requests for other sensitive equipment and technology. [22] In October 1997, China formally joined the Zangger Committee.

However, the strategy of economic incentives, in particular in the form of technology transfers, has its limitations and is not without controversies. For instance, the Clinton administration’s effort to get China to join the MTCR in exchange for greater access to American commercial space technology has been declined by Beijing. [23] At the same time, US technology transfers risk diversion to Chinese military end-use or, more worrying still, re-exports to third countries. There already have been a number of such cases where US machine tools and computers supposedly designated for civilian end-use have found their way in factories manufacturing Chinese cruise missiles and new-generation fighter aircraft. [24] Another prominent case involves two US satellite makers, Loral and Hughes, which allegedly provided sensitive information to China. In 1995-96, the two companies conducted investigations into the causes of the failed launches of the Apstar 2 and Intelsat 708 by Chinese Long March rockets but, without obtaining the necessary export control license, had disseminated the results of the findings to China. The sensitive information transmitted could potentially help China improve its ballistic missile guidance systems. [25]

In sum, US attempts to pressure China into accepting Western arms-transfer guidelines through the use of releasing/withholding advanced technologies have so far produced mixed results. Although one cannot deny that from time to time China has exercised restraint and has made good on its pledges, this is likely a reflection of Beijing’s assessment of its national interests after weighing expected rewards (Western technologies) against forsaken commercial opportunities (missile/nuclear transfers). One important factor that may have influenced China’s nonproliferation policy is its perception of how progress in this policy area could contribute to the overall bilateral relationship. This may have influenced China’s decision to discontinue sales of anti-ship missiles (C-802, C-801) to Iran. [26] It may also provide the rationale for China to issue its key nuclear and dual-use export control regulations in 1997-98: to facilitate the development of a “strategic partnership” between China and the United States, as well as to secure the Clinton administration certification for implementation of the 1985 NCA. This linkage suggests that a serious deterioration in Sino-US relations could cause China to increase its proliferation activities.

Securing China’s Compliance: Difficulties and Challenges

The difficulty in securing China’s full compliance with US nonproliferation policy lies in differences in perceptions, interests, and policy goals. While the US has introduced broad-ranging nonproliferation measures and targeted particular states in implementing its policy, China has only committed to the universally accepted global nonproliferation norms as embodied in the NPT and the CWC. It is therefore not difficult to understand why Beijing initially resisted US pressures to suspend nuclear exports to Iran, since the latter complies with IAEA safeguard provisions, including full-scope safeguards. China eventually cancelled its nuclear reactors deal with Iran in 1997 out of consideration of broader Sino-US relations and the upcoming Clinton-Jiang summit.

There are also differences in interests. Washington seeks to stem proliferation of WMD and their delivery systems to the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia out of its interests for the protection of US troops deployed in these regions, secure supplies of oil, the security of Israel, and stability in Indo-Pak relations. Beijing, on the other hand, regards its nuclear and missile exports as an important source of foreign exchange as well as ways to gaining influence in these regions. [27] Indeed, China’s refusal to adopt IAEA full-scope safeguards as a condition of supplymay be due to concerns that such measures would deprive it of potential markets for nuclear technology. In the case of Pakistan, China’s policy may be driven more by strategic considerations. With regard to its continued missile technology transfers and assistance to Pakistan, Beijing’s motive may be more strategic than commercial. Islamabad has remained an important factor in Beijing’s strategic calculation regarding South Asia and useful in its competition with India. [28]

Finally, China is increasingly concerned with the ultimate goal of US nonproliferation policy – what it views as Washington’s drive for absolute security. This has become more apparent with the developments since early 1999 – the bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the release of the Cox Report, and US decisions to develop and deploy both national and theater missile defense systems. Beijing is especially concerned with the last development, which it considers as the most potent threat to its national security interests. [29] China’s predictable response will be to build up its missile forces and develop counter measures; Beijing is also likely to hold any progress in global arms control hostage to US missile defense decisions. China is already pushing for setting up an ad hoc committee at the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate an outer space non-weaponization treaty and has held up work on a fissile material cut-off treaty. [30]

Indeed, missile defenses and US arms sales to Taiwan have emerged as the key issues likely to divide Beijing and Washington over the priorities of the arms control and nonproliferation agenda. Unless serious efforts are made to address some of China’s core security concerns, Beijing can be expected to be less concerned about issues of greater significance to the US, such as weapons proliferation, when it perceives that its own interests are either being ignored or even harmed by US actions. One way to register unhappiness and to avenge its grievance is to make military transfers to regions/countries of US concern, or to be less responsive to US calls to tighten up China’s own export control and international nonproliferation commitments.

Given that Sino-US disputes over proliferation issues reflect differences in threat perceptions and derive from lack of mutual understanding of each other’s positions and security concerns, extended high-level talks are particularly important and can result in substantive progress in the area of nonproliferation. [31] Indeed, constructive dialogue and better understanding between China and the United States on various weapons transfer-related issues may increase the chance of their eventual solution. Clearly, efforts must be made to encourage Beijing to comply with, in spirit as well as in letter, the norms and practices of nonproliferation. In this regard, the US can and should play an important role given its concern over the proliferation of WMD and its leadership role in various multilateral nonproliferation export-control regimes. However, the US failure to ratify the CTBT and its aggressive push for ABM modification has in China’s eyes greatly weakened American credibility in global nonproliferation leadership.


China has made gradual progress in its nonproliferation policy over the last decade. This is reflected in its acceptance of the core elements of the international nonproliferation norms, rules, and code of conduct. China has also pledged adherence to the MTCR’s original guidelines governing missile transfers, and introduced elements of a domestic export control system. The factors that have contributed to these positive developments include China’s concern over its international image, a growing awareness of the danger that WMD proliferation can pose to its own security, and its interest in maintaining a stable US-China relationship. US policy initiatives to engage, induce and punish have also had some impact on Chinese proliferation behavior. However, the pace and future direction of Chinese nonproliferation policy will be closely linked to Beijing’s overall assessment of its security interests, threats, and policy priorities. Given recent developments in missile defenses and the growing salience of the Taiwan issue, continued Chinese support of global arms control and nonproliferation cannot be taken for granted. The Bush administration has both opportunities to seize and major obstacles to overcome in its efforts to enlist continued Chinese cooperation in arms control and nonproliferation. Several general observations can be made here.

  • Continue to Engage China. Engagement should remain a key element of US China policy, but the choice of appropriate policy tools remains a challenge. Continued high-level official dialogue on security, arms control and nonproliferation between the US and China must be maintained and regularized. Such dialogues should not merely focus on US concerns over specific Chinese proliferation activities but also on the potential threats that WMD proliferation can pose to China’s own security.
  • Balancing Competing Policy Objectives. The Bush administration needs a clear sense of balance and priorities in managing US-China relations, promoting global nonproliferation agendas, protecting America against ballistic missile threats, and honoring its commitment to supporting a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue.
  • Assisting China’s Export Control System. One of the consequences of China’s economic reforms and opening up is the decreasing capability of the central government to oversee and control economic activities, some of which can cause proliferation concerns. While China has introduced some elements of a domestic export control system, a lot remains to be done and the US can and should encourage and assist Chinese efforts in this direction by offering training and institutional development support.
  • Judicious Use of Sanctions. Judicious and selective use of sanctions may continue to serve their purposes, especially when there are undeniable Chinese violations of its nonproliferation commitments and when such activities are clearly sanctioned by the government. On the other hand, a rush to impose sanctions without giving time for clarification, checking evidence, and negotiation can generate a lot of animosity but not necessarily produce the desired outcomes. Whenever possible, broad allied support should be sought; otherwise sanctions cannot be effective either as an instrumental (forcing policy change in Beijing) or a punitive (denying Beijing what it wants) tool. At the same time, sanctions (which impose high costs on certain US industries) could become increasingly difficult to sustain, and incur growing opposition from American business communities.
    Executive-Legislative Branch Coordination. Finally, there must be greater coordination between the executive and legislative branches to achieve greater credibility in US China policy. The implementation of the China policy must remain the purview of the executive branch, with congressional and bipartisan consultation and support. In other words, there should be only one China policy and consistency in its interpretation and implementation. Rather than seeking to introduce additional China specific legislation, Congress should work with the administration and focus on oversight issues so as to ensure that existing laws that are in line with global nonproliferation norms and principles are enforced.

[1] On this point, see Evan S. Medeiros, “China, WMD Proliferation, and the ‘China Threat’ Debate,” Issues & Studies 36:1 (January/February 2000), pp.19-48.
[2] “Joint United States-People’s Republic of China Statement on Missile Proliferation,” October 4, 1994.
[3] Associated Press, “China pledges it will not aid foreign missile development,” November 21, 2000.
[4] Richard T. Cupitt and Yuzo Murayama, Export Controls in the People’s Republic of China, Status Report 1998 (Athens, GA: Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia, 1998).
[5] Bates Gill and Evan S. Medeiros, “Foreign and Domestic Influences on China’s Arms Control and Nonproliferation Policy,” The China Quarterly 161, March 2000, pp.66-94.
[6] Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999, pp.92-122; “PRC Played ‘Crucial Role’ in Halting DPRK Missile Launch,” The Korean Times (Internet version), September 20, 1999.
[7] Zachary S. Davis, “China’s Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy: Boom or Bust for the NPT Regime?” Asian Survey 35:6 (June 1995), p. 591.
[8] Evan S. Medeiros, “The Changing Character of China’s WMD Proliferation Activities,” in Robert Sutter, ed., China and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Implications for the United States (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Spring 2000),
[9] Media coverage in this area is extensive. See also, the Majority Report of the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, US Senate, The Proliferation Primer (January 1998); and Shirley A. Kan, China’s Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Current Policy Issues. CRS Issue Brief (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, updated 10 July 2001).
[10] Medeiros, “China, WMD Proliferation, and the ‘China Threat’ Debate.”
[11] National Intelligence Council, Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015, September 1999. Director of Central Intelligence, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 July Through 31 December 1999 (August 2000).
[12] I would like to thank Evan S. Medeiros for providing these charts.
[13] See John Frankenstein and Bates Gill, “Current and Future Challenges Facing Chinese Defence Industries,” The China Quarterly 146 (June 1996), pp.394-427.
[14] Evan S. Medeiros and Bates Gill, Chinese Arms Exports: Policy, Players, and Process (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, August 2000); Yitzhak Shichor, “Mountains out of Molehills: Arms Transfers in Sino-Middle Eastern Relations,” Middle East Review of International Affairs 4:3 (Fall 2000), pp.68-79.
[15] See Cupitt and Murayama, Export Controls in the People’s Republic of China. See also, Wen L. Hsu, “The Impact of Government Restructuring on Chinese Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Policymaking,” The Nonproliferation Review 6:4 (Fall 1999), pp.152-167.
[16] See “US nonproliferation sanctions against China.” (Monterey, Calif.: East Asia Nonproliferation Program database, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 2001); Duncan L. Clarke and Robert J. Johnston, “US Dual-Use Exports to China, Chinese Behavior, and the Israel Factor: Effective Control?” Asian Survey 39:2 (March/April 1999), pp.193-213; Victor Zaborsky, “Economics vs. Nonproliferation: US Launch Quota Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine, and China,” The Nonproliferation Review 7:3 (Fall-Winter 2000), pp.152-161.
[17] William J. Long, “Trade and Technology Incentives and Bilateral Cupertino,” International Studies Quarterly 40:1 (March 1996), pp.77-106.
[18] Warren Ferster, “Sanctions Legislation Frustrates Industry,” Space News, 25-31 May 1998, p.20.
[19] Howard Diamond, “US Renews Effort to Bring China into Missile Control Regime,” Arms Control Today 28:2 (March 1998), p.22.
[20] “Text: President Certifies China under US-China Nuclear Agreement,” United States Information Agency, 16 January 1998; Howard Diamond, “Clinton Moves to Implement Sino-US Nuclear Agreement,” Arms Control Today 28:1 (January/February 1998), p.30.
[21] Jennifer Weeks, “Sino-US Nuclear Cooperation at a Crossroads,” Arms Control Today 27:5 (June/July 1997), pp.7-13.
[22] R. Jeffrey Smith, “China’s Pledge to End Iran Nuclear Aid Yields US Help,” Washington Post, 30 October 1997, p.1.
[23] Howard Diamond, “US Renews Effort to Bring China into Missile Control Regime,” Arms Control Today 28:2 (March 1998), p.22; Jim Mann, “China Rejects Joining Missile-Control Group, US Officials Say,” Los Angeles Times, 17 April 1998. <>
[24] Nigel Holloway, “Cruise Control,” Far Eastern Economic Review, 14 August 1997, pp.14-16; Jonathan S. Landay, “Is China Diverting High Technology to US Foes?” The Christian Science Monitor, 11 July 1997, pp.1, 8.
[25] “Hughes and Loral: Too Eager to Help China?” Business Week, 13 September 1999; Juliet Eilperin, “GOP Leaders Demand Satellite Export Data,” Washington Post, 12 May 1998, p.A5.
[26] Bill Gertz, “China to halt missile sales to Iran,” Washington Times, 20 January 1998.
[27] See John Calabrese, “China and the Persian Gulf: Energy and Security,” The Middle East Journal 52:3 (Summer 1998), pp.351-366.
[28] Mushahid Hussain, “Pakistan-China defense co-operation: an enduring relationship,” International Defense Review 2/1993, pp.108-111; Cameron Binkley, “Pakistan’s Ballistic Missile Development: The Sword of Islam?” in William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks, eds., The International Missile Bazaar: The New Suppliers’ Network (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1984), pp.75-97.
[29] Paul H.B. Godwin and Evan S. Medeiros, “China, America, and Missile Defense: Conflicting National Interests,” Current History (September 2000), pp.285-289.
[30] See, for example, statement by Mr. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs of China at the Plenary of the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 15 JUNE 2000. <>
[31] Bates Gill and Matthew Stephenson, “Search for Common Ground: Breaking the Sino-US Non-Proliferation Stalemate,” Arms Control Today 26:7 (September 1996), pp.15-20.

APPENDIX I: China’s Nuclear Technology Exports
In the 1980s And 1990s

  •  Research Reactor
    • 15 MWt pressurized heavy water research reactor; possible provisions of heavy water for the reactor; construction began around 1988; placed under IAEA safeguards in 1992
    • Designs for construction of third stage of Algeria’s Center for Nuclear Energy Research
  •  Low Enriched Uranium
    • 20% enriched, sold in 1980s, no safeguards
  • Heavy Water
    • 50-60 metric tons (1981-1985); no safeguards
  • Uranium Concentrate (U3O8)
    • 1981-1985, no safeguards
  • Uranium Hexafluoride Gas (UF6)
    • Early 1980s, 30 metric tons; no safeguards
  •  Enriched Uranium
    • 3%, 7%, 20% enriched; 200 kg total
    • 1984, no safeguards
  •  Heavy water
    • 1982-1987; 130-150 metric tons
    • No IAEA safeguards
  • Low-Enriched Uranium
    • 1995, for India’s Tarapur reactors
    • Supplied under IAEA safeguards
  •  Research Reactors
    • 27kW subcritical, neutron source reactor; provided in 1985; currently under IAEA safeguards
    • Zero-power reactor; commercial contract signed in 1991; currently under IAEA safeguards
    • HT-6B Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, located at Azan University
    • 20 MWt reactor; contract signed in 1992 but the deal was canceled due to US pressure
  • Power Reactors: two 300 MWe reactors
    • Deal suspended in 1995 and canceled in 1997
    • CIA verified project cancellation
  • Calutrons (electromagnetic isotope separators, EMIS)
    • For Karaj and Isfahan facilities; commercial contract signed in 1989; under safeguards
  • Uranium Hexaflouride (UF6) Production Facility
    • Project canceled in October 1997
    • CIA verified cancellation of deal
    • China possibly provided blueprints for facility
  • Zirconium Tube Production Facility
    • Assistance continuing
    • Uranium Mining Assistance
  • Ring Magnets
    • Exports of samarium-cobalt magnets for gas centrifuges, 1989-1990

  • Nuclear Weapon Design
    • Basic, Hiroshima sized weapon
  • Nuclear Weapon Testing
    • Possible inclusion of Pakistani observers at China’s Lop Nur test facility (1989)
  • Possible Provision of Tritium Gas
    • 1986, no safeguards
  • Uranium Enrichment
    • Assistance to unsafeguarded Kahuta enrichment facility
    • This assistance was mutually beneficial
  • Ring Magnets
    • About 5,000 to unsafeguarded A.Q. Khan Research Laboratory in Kahuta (1995)
  • Weapons-Grade Uranium for Two Devices
    • Early 1980s, supplied without safeguards
  • Plutonium Production Reactor at Khushab
    • 50-70 MW heavy water reactor (unsafeguarded)
    • Construction assistance
    • Provided special industrial furnace and high-tech diagnostic equipment (1994-1995)
  • Reprocessing Facility at Chashma
    • Possible assistance constructing unsafeguarded facility


  • Power Reactor: Chashma-1 (CHASNUPP), 300 MWe
    • Build by CNNC, deal signed in late 1995.
    • Began operating in November 1999
    • Under IAEA safeguards (INFCIRC/418)
  • Research Reactors
    • Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR); supplied under IAEA safeguards (INFCIRC/393) in 1991
    • Helped construct PARR-2 research reactor, safeguarded
  • Heavy water (D2O)
    • Up to 5 MT/year for safeguarded PHWR [Kanupp] research reactor
    • Possibly diverted by Pakistan to the Khushab research reactor against Chinese wishes
  • Fuel Fabrication Services

APPENDIX 2: China’s Missile Technology Exports
In The 1980s And 1990s

  • Ballistic Missiles
    • 8610/CSS-8
    • M-9/DF-15 (China cancelled the sale under US pressure)
  • Cruise Missiles
    • HY-1
    • 100 HY-2 (Silkworm)
    • HY-4/C-201
    • C-601
    • YJ-1/C-801 (sales halted in October 1997)
    • YJ-2/C-802 (sales halted in October 1997)
  • Assistance to Iran’s Indigenous Missile Programs
    • Extensive production assistance for the 8610/CSS-8 missile
    • Extensive production infrastructure for HY-2, C-801 and C-802 missile (production assistance halted in 1997)
    • Possible assistance to the Shahab-3 ballistic missile
    • FL-10 air-launched cruise missile
  • Missile Fuel
    • Various propellant ingredients
    • Ammonium perchlorate
  • Missile Guidance and Control Technology
    • Guidance kits (mid-1990s)
    • Gyroscopes (mid-1990s)
    • Accelerometers (mid-1990s)
    • Test equipment for ballistic missiles (mid-1990s)
  • Cruise Missiles (1980s)
    • HY-2 (Silkworm)
    • C-601
    • YJ-1/C-801
  • Missile Engine Testing Facility/Project 3209
    • Supply of standard parts for liquid propellant engine, late 1980s
  • Missile Fuel
    • 10 tons of UDMH, late 1980s
    • 7 tons of lithium hydride; 1989-1990; exported by the China Wanbao Engineering Company (CWEC)
    • Ammonium perchlorate, 1994
  • Missile Fuel
    • Lithium hydride
  • Ballistic Missiles and Launchers
    • 34 M-11/DF-11 missiles; stored at Pakistan’s Sargodha Air Force Base near Lahore; delivered in November 1992
    • M-11 transporter-erector-launchers (TELs)
  • Possible Assistance to Indigenous Missile Programs
    • Hatf-1, Hatf-2 and Hatf-3 ballistic missiles
  • Missile Fuel
    • Ammonium perchlorate, 10 tons seized in Hong Kong in 1996; Pakistan’s SUPARCO was caught attempting to import the ammonium perchlorate from a company in Xian, China
  • Missile Guidance
    • Gyroscopes
    • Accelerometers
    • On-board computers
  • Assistance to Missile Production Factory
    • Rawalpindi, 40 km west of Islamabad
    • Likely producing Pakistani version of M-11 missile
    • Blueprints and construction equipment, possibly ongoing
  • Ballistic Missiles
    • 30+ DF-3 (CSS-2) missiles; deliveries began in 1988; and included construction of launch complex, training, and post-sale systems maintenance
    • In 1997, Saudi Arabia requested from China possible replacements for the aging DF-3 missiles; China did not provide any replacements
  • Ballistic Missiles
    • DF-15/M-9 missiles, Syria provided advance payments
    • Cancelled under US pressure in 1991; Syria possibly received test missile
  • Assistance with Indigenous Programs
    • 30 tons of ammonium perchlorate in 1992
    • Technical exchanges
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