China has told the US it is cracking down on nuclear, chemical, biological and missile exports, stoking optimism that a festering non-proliferation dispute can be resolved soon, US officials say.
The George W. Bush administration has demanded adherence to a November 2000 agreement that aimed to halt China's export of ballistic-missile technology to Pakistan and other states.
The dispute has marred a relationship that has improved markedly, especially on anti-terrorism cooperation, since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.
US officials said in recent days that during talks in Washington last week, top Chinese arms control negotiator Liu Jieyi provided new assurances that go beyond the missile issue.
"We had good talks that were far more substantive than the previous talks I had last fall," said US negotiator John Wolf, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation affairs.
"We had a good discussion on a variety of non-proliferation issues especially related to export controls, and not just in the missile area ... Liu provided new information. We're considering it. And I suspect we'll want to talk again," he said in an interview.
Other officials provided more specific details about the status of negotiations that some on the US side mistakenly thought could be resolved by the time of Bush's trip to Beijing last month and his meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民).
It did not come together then but now US officials say they believe agreement is possible in late April, when Vice President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) -- Jiang's heir apparent -- visits Washington or later this year when Jiang comes to the US.
China pledged in November 2000 to tighten missile export controls but the US has accused it of continuing to supply missiles and related technology to Pakistan and imposed sanctions on Sept. 1.
Beijing wants to end the penalties, which include a ban on launches of US commercial satellites on Chinese rockets.
"Liu informed us what they are doing with nuclear export controls, CBW [chemical, biological weapons] export controls and missile technology, and in all those areas they professed they are in the process of tightening their export controls. This is new information for us," one US official said.
The Chinese said they are bringing nuclear export controls "up to compatibility" with standards adopted by a group of countries called the Nuclear Suppliers Group and chemical and biological export controls "up to compatibility" with standards of the so-called Australia Group of countries, officials said.
On sales of missiles and related technology, Liu said China will "take into account fully" the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international regime under which countries agree not to transfer missiles to unstable areas, US officials said.
"The Chinese have said they are doing some things independent of our [missile] discussions which is good because the point is [to show] China opposes proliferation," one official said.