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Congressional Research Service, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” January 31, 2007

This CRS report is written by Shirley A. Kan, specialist in Asian security affairs.
January 31, 2007

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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 that the State Department says support terrorism, such as Iran and North Korea.  This CRS Report, updated as warranted, discusses the national security problem of China’s role in weapons proliferation and issues related to the U.S. policy response, including legislation, 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.  As the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) has reported to Congress, China remains 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, PRC proliferation activities again raised questions about sanctions.  On 18 occasions, the Bush Administration has imposed sanctions on 31 PRC “entities” (not the government) for transfers (related to ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and cruise missiles) to Pakistan, Iran, or another country, including repeated sanctions on “serial proliferators.”  (Table 1 summarizes sanctions imposed on PRC entities.)  Among those sanctions, on September 1, 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.  On September 19, 2003, the State Department imposed more missile proliferation sanctions on NORINCO, a defense industrial firm, effectively denying satellite exports to China.  However, for six times, the State Department has waived this sanction for the ban on imports of other PRC government  products related to missiles, space systems, electronics, and military aircraft.

Skeptics question whether China’s cooperation in weapons nonproliferation has warranted President Bush’s pursuit of closer bilateral ties. The Administration has imposed repeated sanctions on “entities” but not the PRC government.  China has not joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Since 2002, Bush has relied on China’s “considerable influence” on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons. China helped with the process of the Six-Party Talks and sponsored the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005, but results remain elusive. China has pursued balanced positions on Iran and North Korea, but also evolved to vote for U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions against those countries.  The 110th Congress might oversee a policy review by a North Korea Policy Coordinator as required by P.L. 109-364.  On January 30, China announced that the Six-Party Talks would resume again on February 8, 2007, in Beijing.

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