During Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit this week, President Clinton activated a 1985 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with China. American companies will now be authorized to start selling nuclear reactors and fuel to a country that has been identified by the CIA as "a key supplier of most destructive arms technology" to rogue regimes such as Iran's. We believe that providing access to American technologies that could end up assisting Iran's nuclear weapons programs would constitute an intolerable risk to U.S. national security.
When the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was finalized in 1985, Congress placed conditions on the resolution approving it that required the president to certify that China had become a responsible member of the non-proliferation community before the agreement could go into effect. No U.S. president, not Reagan, not Bush and until now not Clinton, has made such a certification. A glance at the record quickly shows why.
Communist China's nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation has made it the Wal-Mart of international nuclear commerce. Consider the following list of only the worst and most recent of China's non-proliferation violations:
In February 1996, the People's Republic of China was discovered to have sold 5,000 ring magnets to Pakistan for use in Pakistan's secret uranium enrichment facility, though it publicly denied doing so.
In May 1997, the State Department cited seven Chinese entities for exporting chemical weapons technology to Iran.
In June 1997, Time magazine reported that China had not only transferred nuclear-capable missiles to Pakistan but was also helping Pakistan build missiles of its own.
In July 1997, the CIA identified China as being "the most significant supplier of Weapons of Mass Destruction-related goods and technology to foreign countries."
In August 1997, Israeli intelligence reports confirmed that China is supplying long-range nuclear missile technologies to Iran.
In September 1997, the U.S. Navy reported that China is the most active supplier of Iran's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
This record speaks for itself. China has continually assured the United States that it would stop providing technologies for weapons of mass destruction to countries such as Iran and Pakistan. China has continually failed to live up to its promises. Before implementing the 1985 agreement, we need to be certain that this time the promises are for real.
The 1985 agreement requires the president to certify that China has made sufficient progress in halting proliferation. Clinton, however, seems to believe that China's proliferation record is irrelevant, and that we should blindly trust the vague promises China has made to implement its own export controls and regulations. China has yet to make a tangible demonstration of its commitment to cease its sales of mass destruction technologies. Implementation of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is profoundly ill advised, at least until the following criteria are met:
China must join the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. The NSG members have agreed not to sell nuclear technologies to any country that does not allow international inspections of all of its nuclear facilities all of the time, a criterion known as "full-scope safeguards."
China must cease all proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including missiles and chemical and biological weapons. A promise to cease nuclear proliferation without similar assurances to cease the proliferation of other mass destruction technologies is a lot like an alcoholic's swearing off scotch without bothering to stop drinking beer or wine.
China must follow through with its promise to implement an export controls system, but it must be proved to be effective. This can be accomplished only through the passage of time. With such a long legacy of transgressions and broken promises, we need to see evidence of true reform before moving forward with certification.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., is cochairman of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., is chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., is chairman of the House Policy Committee.
Special to the Washington Post