U.S. considering stiff penalties against China for arms sales Measures could include a halt in the sharing of sophisticated technology

March 08, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A divided Clinton administration is considering imposing stiff penalties on China for selling nuclear technology or missile parts to Pakistan and Iran, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

Some U.S. officials argue that China's recent sales have flouted both international treaties and U.S. law. If they're right, the administration could eventually slap an array of costly penalties on Beijing, including a halt in the sharing of sophisticated U.S. technology.

In anticipation of some kind of decision, the Clinton administration has advised the Export Import Bank to put billions of dollars worth of loans for U.S.-China trade on hold.

Inconclusive evidence

But the Clinton administration's foreign policy agencies disagree on whether the evidence is strong enough to justify punishing the Chinese, said John Holum, administrator of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Answering questions from reporters, Mr. Holum provided yesterday the most complete official picture to date of how the administration is grappling with the allegations of Chinese weapons violations.

His remarks coincided with U.S.-Chinese tensions on two other fronts: the start today of missile tests near the Taiwan Strait that have rattled the Taiwanese and alarmed international shippers, and harsh U.S. criticism this week of Chinese repression. The State Department's human rights report for 1995 even suggested that the Clinton administration had erred in thinking that trade could lead to improved human rights.

The dispute over weapons is expected to be a topic of talks in Washington this week between administration officials and Liu Huaqiu, the Chinese counterpart to Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser.

In a meeting with reporters yesterday, Mr. Holum seemed to go out of his way to avoid offending the Chinese anew. He portrayed a Clinton administration struggling to maintain smooth relations with Beijing despite its rising defiance of U.S. and world opinion.

"The China approach to nonproliferation is evolving," Mr. Holum said, calling it "a mixed picture."

"But we obviously have a series of very serious concerns, including their nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, their missile cooperation with Pakistan, the missile technology relationship with Iran -- including cruise missile technology -- all of which are issues under active review."

In an interview later, he said: "The overall trend [in Chinese behavior] has been mildly positive."

Nevertheless, he said, the United States is continuing to collect evidence that China has sold Pakistan either complete M-11 missile systems or major components. Either action would violate an international agreement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Under a U.S. law crafted to support the missile agreement, China could be barred from, among other things, importing U.S. electronics or space systems or equipment, said William Triplett II, a congressional expert on China.

Trade with Iran, Pakistan

The Clinton administration also is considering evidence that China sold Pakistan 5,000 ring magnets, used to help enrich nuclear fuel. According to Mr. Triplett, that action could violate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and could trigger U.S. penalties that would include a halt in trade financing and in the transfer of satellite technology.

Pakistan is engaged in a tense cold war with India, and both nations have the ability to quickly assemble nuclear weapons.

Iran, another Chinese customer, is seen by the United States as one of the biggest obstacles to the Middle East peace process and the world's major sponsor of terrorism. The Clinton administration is reviewing evidence that China supplied Iran both with guidance systems for Scud missiles and with C-802 cruise missiles.

The administration could impose penalties on China for the cruise missile sale if it concludes that it has had a destabilizing effect on the Persian Gulf region. Since the missiles can fly only 20 meters off the ground and thus can avoid radar detection, this likely would not be hard to prove.

"It augments the military capability of Iran and could definitely threaten sea-lane commerce in the Persian Gulf," said Evan Medeiros, a senior analyst at the Arms Control Association.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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