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Congressional Research Service, “China and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” March 11, 2013

This CRS report is written by Shirley A. Kan, specialist in Asian security affairs.
March 11, 2013

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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 said by the State Department to have supported terrorism, such as Iran. 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. and other foreign 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 intelligence reports submitted as required to Congress, China has been a “key supplier” of technology, particularly PRC entities providing nuclear and missile-related technology to Pakistan and missile-related technology to Iran.
Policy approaches 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 PRC promise on missile nonproliferation. However, PRC proliferation activities have continued to raise questions about China’s commitment to nonproliferation and the need for U.S. sanctions. The United States has imposed sanctions on various PRC “entities” (including state-owned entities) for troublesome transfers related to missiles and chemical weapons to Pakistan, Iran, or perhaps 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, after a PRC company transferred technology to Pakistan, despite the promise of 2000. Since 2009, the Obama Administration has imposed sanctions on 15 occasions on multiple entities in the PRC (some sanctioned repeatedly) for weapon proliferation-related activities.
Skeptics question whether China’s cooperation in weapons nonproliferation warrants the U.S. pursuit of closer ties, even as sanctions were required against PRC technology transfers. Some criticize the imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting PRC “entities” but not the government. Others doubt the effectiveness of any stress on sanctions over diplomacy or a comprehensive strategy. Concerns grew that China expanded nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, supported the DPRK, and could undermine sanctions against Iran (including in the oil/gas energy sector). In 2002-2008, the U.S. approach relied on China’s influence on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons. Beijing hosted the “Six-Party Talks” (last held in December 2008) with limited results. Since 2006, China’s balanced approach has evolved to vote for some U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against missile or nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Some called for engaging more with Beijing to use its leverage against Pyongyang and Tehran. However, North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013 have prompted greater debate about how to change China’s calculus and the value of its role. After negotiations, the PRC voted in June 2009 for UNSC Resolution 1874 to expand sanctions imposed under Resolution 1718 in 2006 against North Korea. The PRC voted in June 2010 for UNSC Resolution 1929 for the fourth set of sanctions against Iran. In 2013, the PRC voted for UNSC Resolutions 2087 and 2094 on North Korea for missile and nuclear tests. Still, China agreed to sanctions in a balanced, incremental way, and questions remain about its implementation of agreed sanctions. China’s approach has not shown fundamental changes toward Iran and North Korea. Legislation includes H.Res. 65 (Royce), H.R. 673 (Ros-Lehtinen), and S. 298 (Menendez).

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