Clinton’s Flawed China Policy: Is Clinton-Style Engagement Really Constructive? by Jason Morrow

Was the Clinton Administration’s effort to restrict the sale of U.S. guns designed to assist China’s sale of illegal assault rifles in the U.S.? Maybe not. But it would explain a particularly bizarre incident occurring in Long Beach, California and detailed in the recently released Cox Report.

In September 1995, President Bill Clinton met with Long Beach officials to encourage the private development of the recently mothballed Long Beach Naval Air Station. Port officials planned to lease the base to COSCO, a shipping line owned and operated by the Chinese government.1 A few months later, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms running an undercover operation discovered a COSCO ship carrying 2,000 illegal Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifles for sale to Southern California street gangs.2

President Clinton then traveled once again to Long Beach to meet with city officials to promote the COSCO lease. Inexplicably, he advocated the lease without even requesting a national security review by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Apparently, economic relations with China were more important to him than the safety of American citizens.3

This was not the only time that the Clinton Administration sacrificed our security for the sake of improving relations with China.

In 1992, the Clinton Administration began granting waivers to aerospace companies, allowing satellite launches on Chinese rockets. Following mishaps resulting in the destruction of U.S. satellites, the Hughes and Loral corporations provided technical assistance to the Chinese without government approval. This assistance allowed the Chinese to increase the reliability and performance of their ballistic missiles.4

Rather than restricting satellite launches or tightening launch security in response to these incidents, President Clinton transferred the authority over such launches from the State Department to the Commerce Department. The authority thus transferred from a department concerned with national security to one concerned with increasing trade.5

In an effort to continue engaging China, President Clinton also ignored intelligence information regarding Chinese arms sales. In 1993, a CIA report concluded that China had shipped 34 M-11 ballistic missiles to Pakistan. Under the Missile Technology Control Regime, the U.S. is required to impose sanctions upon the receipt of such information. But the Clinton Administration rejected the CIA’s information, leading Gordon Oehler, then-director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center, to note that the administration “regularly dismissed” intelligence information.6

In a similar incident in 1996, the CIA informed the President of a Chinese shipment of magnets used to make bomb-grade uranium to Pakistan. Instead of imposing sanctions (as mandated by law), the White House negotiated an agreement on nonproliferation with China. The Nuclear Control Institute reported that the commitment had loopholes “big enough to push an atom bomb through.”7 Indeed, only a few months later, further shipments of nuclear equipment to Pakistan were reported, but again, no action was taken.8

In yet another ill-conceived plan designed to engage China, the Department of Energy exempted the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories (where nuclear weapons research occurs) from security safeguards, including background checks on foreign employees.9 Not surprisingly, the number of Chinese nationals working at Los Alamos has risen by over 400% since.10

So what has Chinese engagement accomplished for us? Pakistan and India are at war over a border dispute, thanks in part to nuclear tests and military escalation made possible by China.11 China has gathered information from U.S. nuclear laboratories giving them warhead design information on a par with our own.12 The U.S. trade deficit with China has risen to $58 billion.13 The Chinese government has begun a severe crackdown on dissidents and religious movements.14 China’s threats toward Taiwan have reached new levels.15 The progress on many issues that engagement was supposed to bring us hasn’t materialized.

After all these setbacks, can anyone still believe that kowtowing to China is beneficial?

Apparently so. In an egregious display of bad timing, President Clinton proposed the continued extension of normal trade relations (formerly known as Most-Favored Nation trading status) with China earlier this year, only hours before the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.16

Not even Congress has been immune to engagement fever. While Congress did kill the COSCO lease and protect satellite launches in the past year, they refused to take any substantive action to persuade China to change its ways. Indeed, the House of Representatives recently approved continued normal trade relations. The next critical issue will be the upcoming negotiations to allow China into the World Trade Organization, an idea that President Clinton supports. To do so would complete the process of capitulation to China, as it would effectively prevent the U.S. from using trade restrictions as a tool in future negotiations.

Both the Clinton Administration and Congress have continually acquiesced in the face of Chinese defiance. If they do not make a stand soon, they may never be able to change Chinese behavior.

Jason Morrow is a Research Associate of The National Center for Public Policy Research’s National Defense Center. Comments may be sent to [email protected].


Footnotes:1 Karen Gullo and John Solomon, “Clinton Aids Chinese Firm’s Takeover of Ex-Navy Base,” Sacramento Bee, March 9, 1997.

2 Pierre Thomas, “U.S. Arrests Suspects With Ties to Chinese Arms Firms in Gun Smuggling Sting,” Washington Post, May 23, 1996.

3 David Westphal, “Senators Want China’s Base Lease Studied,” Sacramento Bee, March 13, 1997.

4 Rep. Christopher Cox, Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China, May 25, 1999.

5 John Mintz, “Signs of Chinese Arms Sale Dismissed, Ex-Official Says,” Washington Post, June 12, 1998.

6 John Mintz; Eric Schmitt, “Helms said Clinton Tried to Protect China by Waiving Curbs on Satellite Exports,” New York Times, June 12, 1998.

7 Paul Leventhal and Daniel Horner, “Proliferation: Show China We Mean Business,” Washington Post, June 14, 1996.

8 A.M. Rosenthal, “The Nuclear Gamble,” New York Times, October 11, 1996.

9 James Risen and Jeff Gerth, “Breach at Los Alamos,” New York Times, March 6, 1999; Tony Snow, “Sending the Sheriff Away from Dodge City,” Jewish World Review, June 1, 1999.

10 Paul Sperry, John Berlau, and Scott Wheeler, “Los Alamos Storing Export Data”, Investor’s Business Daily, June 3, 1999.

11 “India Enjoys World Diplomatic Sympathy,” Financial Times, June 10, 1999.

12 Rep. Christopher Cox.

13 Thomas J. Duesterberg, “Unwilling to Alter a Closed Economy,” Indianapolis Star, June 11, 1999.

14 “Five dissidents Held as Purge Continues,” South China Morning Post, June 21, 1999; Eric Eckholm, “China is Sentencing Dissidents to Jail Terms of Up to Four Years,” New York Times, June 11, 1999; Michael Laris, “Spiritual Group Protests in 30 Cities Across China,” Washington Post, July 22, 1999.

15 “China Warns Asian Nations on Taiwan Aid,” Washington Times, July 27, 1999.

16 Charles Babington, “Clinton Braces for Storm in Seeking Renewal of China’s Trade Status,” Washington Post, June 3, 1999.

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