Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 9 News List

China ready to contribute to global nonproliferation efforts

By Yuan Jing-dong

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a multilateral export-control regime that controls the transfer of sensitive nuclear items and technologies, approved China's membership last Friday during its annual plenary meeting in Sweden.

The NSG's decision is a milestone as China's membership is expected to strengthen international nuclear nonproliferation efforts. That is, if Beijing will and can meet its obligations as NSG membership requires.

Indeed, some controversy has surrounded Beijing's bid for NSG membership within the US government and between the executive and legislative branches. While supporters see China's NSG membership as a step toward promoting nuclear nonproliferation, opponents raise serious questions about Beijing's proliferation record and are concerned about China's willingness and ability to enforce nonproliferation measures.

This concern is not without reason. Over the years, suspected Chinese proliferation activities have been a contentious issue in Sino-US relations. During the 1980s and 1990s, China is alleged to have been engaged in a number of questionable nuclear transactions, providing nuclear reactors and technologies to Algeria, Pakistan and Iran without proper safeguards or oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The US government has imposed sanctions on Chinese companies and entities and has constantly pressured the Chinese government to change its policy.

Since the mid-1990s, Beijing has made significant progress with its nuclear nonproliferation policy. After joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and supporting its indefinite extension in 1995, Beijing has made formal pledges not to transfer nuclear items and technologies to facilities that aren't safeguarded and has issued a series of domestic regulations governing nuclear and nuclear dual-use exports. China joined the Zangger Committee in October 1997, and began to adopt the NSG dual-use list in its export-control regulations. In January, China formally applied for NSG membership.

Opposition to China's NSG membership was based on a number of concerns. One was China's continued co-operation with Pakistan, which refuses to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state. The NSG stipulates that member states shall not make nuclear exports to countries that do not have full-scope safeguards with the IAEA. Beijing and Islamabad have recently signed an agreement for China to provide Pakistan with a second nuclear reactor to be built at Chashma.

In addition, critics point out that China's track record raises serious doubts about its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. For instance, after China joined the NPT in 1992, Chinese companies continued to engage in transfers of sensitive nuclear technologies that could be used in developing nuclear weapons. In 1995, China sold 5,000 ring magnets to Pakistan that could be used to enrich uranium, a clear violation of its nonproliferation commitment.

These are all legitimate concerns. But an equally important point is to recognize and encourage the generally positive trends in Chinese nonproliferation behavior. Past Chinese deviations from its pledges can be summarized as falling into one of the following categories: different perspectives, failure of the domestic export-control system and issue linkage.

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