You are here

Congressional Research Service, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” January 3, 2014

This CRS report is written by Shirley A. Kan, specialist in Asian security affairs.
January 3, 2014

View reports from other years:
2015 | 2014 | 2013 | November 2012 | April 2012 | March 2012 | May 2011 | March 2011 | February 2011 | 2010 | December 2009 | July 2009 | May 2009 | January 2009 | 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 included Pakistan, North Korea, and 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. Unclassified intelligence reports told Congress that China was a “key supplier” of technology, particularly with 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. 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.” Since 2009, the Obama Administration has imposed sanctions on 16 occasions on multiple entities in China for weapons proliferation.

Skeptics question whether China’s roles in weapons nonproliferation warrant a closer relationship with China, even as sanctions were required on some 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 North Korea, 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 prompted greater debate about how to change China’s calculus and the value of its cooperation. 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 has continued its balanced approach that includes incremental implementation of UNSC sanctions. China’s approach has not shown fundamental changes toward Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. China again is calling for resuming the Six-Party Talks, but the Administration says the goal is North Korea’s credible denuclearization. On November 29, 2013, the Secretary of State again announced that China (and other countries) “significantly” reduced crude oil imports from Iran and that sanctions under the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (P.L. 112-81) would not apply. Legislation includes H.Res.65 (Royce), H.R. 673 (Ros-Lehtinen), and S. 298 (Menendez). In December, Congress passed the NDAA for FY2014, H.R. 3304, with Section 1248 to require a report on a plan to reduce missile proliferation in Iran, North Korea, and Syria, including with the PRC’s cooperation.

Click here for a listing of reports released by the Congressional Research Service.

PDF icon China and Proliferation 2014 Jan.pdf697.19 KB