China again rejects allegations it stole U.S. nuclear secrets

High-ranking official, charging racism, offers rebuttal to Cox report

June 01, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- Accusing a House select committee of arrogance, slander and racism, the Chinese government continued its vigorous denial of nuclear theft charges yesterday in its first full-fledged rebuttal to the Cox report.

A high-ranking Chinese official dismissed the 700-page document -- which alleges that China stole U.S. nuclear secrets over two decades -- as a work of fiction, saying it was designed to further damage already strained relations between the two countries.

"Their purpose is to divert public attention, fan anti-China feelings, defame China's image and try to hold back Sino-U.S. relations so as to stop China's development," said Zhao Qizheng, minister of information for the State Council, China's Cabinet.

"This attempt is doomed to fail."

Zhao's comments are the latest in a war of words between Chinese and U.S. politicians. They come at one of the worst times in Sino-U.S. relations in years.

It was less than a year ago that Bill Clinton became the first U.S. president to visit China since the bloody military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989. Clinton's trip was designed to cap a two-year effort to improve relations with China and was widely viewed as a success.

Since then, relations have deteriorated rapidly, with China's jailing of leaders of the nation's first opposition political party and the accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The bombing sparked the worst anti-Western demonstrations here in decades. China also suspended military contacts with the United States and has refused to allow U.S. ships to dock in Hong Kong.

Last week, the downhill trend continued.

A House select committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican, said that China had stolen U.S. design information that would allow it to build miniaturized nuclear warheads and a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. Although some congressmen and Clinton administration officials have questioned the report's accuracy and the magnitude of the alleged security damage, the document has further fueled distrust on both sides of the Pacific.

Yesterday, Zhao said the timing of the Cox report's release was designed to distract public attention from the embassy bombing. He also dismissed the report's charge that China employs a wide network of scientists, students and "front" companies in the United States to acquire military technology.

"This is a great slander against the Chinese nation and is typical racial prejudice," he said.

U.S. specialists on Chinese trade and economics have criticized the report's charge regarding alleged front companies, saying that Chinese military and civilian firms operating in the United States often have different agendas and do not necessarily cooperate.

Zhao added that the theft claims make little sense because performance data regarding various types of U.S. nuclear warheads have been available to the public for years. Chinese officials showed reporters an Internet site designed by the Federation of American Scientists, which contains specifications for many nuclear weapons. They include the W-88 warhead, the design for which Chinese spies are said to have stolen from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"They are no longer secrets," said Zhao, "so there is nothing to steal."

The federation is a private, nonprofit organization founded as the Federation of Atomic Scientists in 1945 by members of the Manhattan Project who produced the first atomic bomb. While the federation Web site does contain background information on nuclear weapons, it does not include a primer or blueprints on how to build them.

Pub Date: 6/01/99

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