China said to continue missile aid to Pakistan

Intelligence reports put Senate trade bill at risk


WASHINGTON - U.S. intelligence agencies have told the Clinton administration and Congress that China has continued to aid Pakistan's effort to build long-range missiles that could carry nuclear weapons, according to several officials with access to the intelligence reports.

The revelations are complicating President Clinton's effort to win quick Senate passage of a bill establishing normal trade relations for China.

In classified briefings on Capitol Hill, most recently on Thursday, the agencies have described how China stepped up the shipment of specialty steels, guidance systems and technical expertise to Pakistan, China's longtime strategic ally, after India and Pakistan set off rival nuclear tests in 1998.

Chinese experts have also been sighted around Pakistan's newest missile factory, which appears partly based on a Chinese design, and shipments to Pakistan have been continued during the past eight to 18 months, several of the officials said. The administration is sending a large delegation to Beijing on Tuesday to raise the issue in detail, the first high-level negotiations over missile exports since November 1998.

The delegation will be headed by John Holum, senior adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright for arms control, and will include several other high-ranking officials. The talks were suspended for more than a year after the accidental U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Last week, a senior U.S. general called the arming of Pakistan "a longer-range issue" that persists despite assurances two years ago from President Jiang Zemin of China to President Clinton that Beijing would review its aid to the country.

But the ties between China's military and Pakistan run deep - both consider India their greatest threat - and the general said, "Part of the issue is, we're not sure how much is going on that the Chinese hierarchy knows about."

Clinton administration officials, trying to head off action by Congress that could place new sanctions on China, say they have been encouraged that China has greatly reduced exports to the Middle East. The White House has argued that the Chinese have abided by agreements to halt exports of nuclear and chemical weapons to Iran, North Korea and other nations that the United States considers a strategic concern.

But the continuing exports of missile parts and technology to Pakistan are creating political problems, much as they did during the last presidential election, when Clinton decided in May 1996 not to punish China for the sale of $70,000 in equipment that helped Pakistan produce weapons-grade uranium.

The latest revelations appear to be contributing to the reluctance of the Senate leadership to schedule a vote on permanent normal trading relations with China, a bill that passed in the House.

Moreover, the administration fears that in order to win passage of the trade bill, it may have to accept a bill constraining China's exports of missile technology.

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