British American Security Information Council * Committee to Bridge the Gap *
Council for a Livable World * Institute for Science and International Security *
Natural Resources Defense Council * Nuclear Control Institute *
Physicians for Social Responsibility * Henry L. Stimson Center *
Union of Concerned Scientists

September 26, 1997

President William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to express our concern about a number of deeply troubling issues pertaining to whether the United States should engage in civilian nuclear cooperation with China.

We understand that you are now considering making the Presidential certifications required to activate the U.S.-China Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation. To meet the certification requirements, which Congress enacted when it approved the agreement in 1985, you will need clear evidence that China is faithfully adhering to bilateral and international commitments to refrain from assisting other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. We appreciate the efforts you are now making to obtain these commitments from China.

Your upcoming summit with President Jiang Zemin and the negotiations preceding it represent the best opportunity yet to persuade China not only of the importance you assign to halting the further spread of nuclear weapons, but also of the critical role of China, as a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in bringing about universal adherence to non-proliferation standards. If you submit the certifications prematurely -- thereby allowing China to receive U.S. nuclear power reactors and fuel while it is still supplying would-be nuclear-weapon states, such as Iran and Pakistan -- a singular opportunity to bind China to the non-proliferation community of nations will be lost, at great potential risk to vital U.S. security interests.

Our concerns apply to the following urgent issues:

Safeguards: With regard to China's exports, we are concerned that China still refuses to require "full-scope safeguards" as a condition of supply for its nuclear transfers to other nations. This refusal puts China at odds with the declaration of "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" that accompanied the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. In that document all parties to the Treaty, including China, agreed on the importance of acceptance of "IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] full-scope safeguards and internationally binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices" by non-nuclear-weapon states receiving nuclear fuel, reactors, and other major goods.

The guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) -- which includes every major supplier except China - - call for full-scope safeguards as a condition of supply. In addition, the NSG has agreed to common export controls on an extensive list of dual-use items that could make a major contribution to the development of nuclear weapons. We believe that U.S. nuclear cooperation with China should not proceed until China agrees to join the NSG or at least to adhere to its export-control standards.

With regard to China's imports, one of the certifications you must make to Congress is that China will utilize U.S. nuclear assistance only for peaceful purposes. But China has a record of diverting U.S. non-nuclear exports -- specifically machine tools and a computer -- to military applications. Therefore, we urge you to require true IAEA safeguards, rather than some less stringent arrangement, to be applied on U.S. exports under the agreement.

Export-Control System: In light of China's long history of violating or inadequately enforcing non- proliferation commitments, it is essential that China put into place an effective, enforceable export-control system -- one that requires any significant nuclear-related exports to be reported to and specifically approved by the central government prior to transfer from China. In this way, the Chinese government would no longer be able to plead ignorance of dangerous nuclear-related transfers, as it did in the case of the ring-magnet transfer to Pakistan.

In May 1996 -- following public disclosure of its export of 5000 specialized ring magnets to Pakistan's unsafeguarded uranium-enrichment program -- China made a commitment to the United States to develop a national system of export controls. Although China now has approved a new export-control law, it is not publicly known how China will implement the new system. We believe it would be imprudent to begin nuclear commerce with China until China's export-control system is well-understood and tested.

Exports to Pakistan and Iran: After disclosure of its transfer of ring magnets to Pakistan, China pledged not to engage in further exports to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities but refused to require full-scope safeguards. We question the verifiability of this lesser pledge and therefore are concerned about the possibility of diversion of Chinese exports from safeguarded to unsafeguarded facilities in Pakistan. Of particular concern is the possibility of a transfer of Chinese-supplied heavy water from Pakistan's safeguarded Kanupp electrical-power reactor to its unsafeguarded Khushab plutonium-production reactor, especially since the latter reactor was supplied by China and still requires a supply of heavy water in order to begin operating.

With regard to Iran, there are conflicting reports as to whether China has agreed to supply Iran with two new nuclear power reactors and a plant to convert enriched uranium from gaseous to metallic form. In our view, given the U.S. position that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program, it would not be possible for you to certify that China is not providing direct or indirect assistance to countries to develop nuclear weapons, as required by law, if China has entered into a major nuclear-supply arrangement with Iran. Furthermore, if China were assisting the nuclear-weapon programs of either Pakistan or Iran, such assistance would be in violation of China's basic NPT obligations.

Reprocessing: Although China appears to be moving toward reprocessing spent fuel and utilizing recycled plutonium in its civilian nuclear program, it has not yet made a formal commitment to do so. Obtaining a Chinese pledge to refrain from reprocessing and recycling plutonium would be a notable achievement of your 1993 policy to "not encourage the civil use of plutonium" and "seek to eliminate where possible the accumulation of stockpiles of highly enriched uranium or plutonium." While a Chinese commitment to forgo separation and use of plutonium is not a requirement for the Presidential certification, it nonetheless is important to pursue, given the early stage of development of China's civilian program and the powerful non-proliferation precedent such a commitment would set.

We appreciate your attention to these urgent matters, and we look forward to receiving your administration's response.


Paul Leventhal, Nuclear Control Institute
David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security
Joseph Cirincione, Henry L. Stimson Center
Daniel Hirsch, Committee to Bridge the Gap
John Isaacs, Council for a Livable World
Robert K. Musil, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Christopher Paine, Natural Resources Defense Council
Daniel Plesch, British American Security Information Council
Tom Zamora-Collina, Union of Concerned Scientists

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