US, China Warm Ties With an Agreement Over Weapons Sales

Both Washington and Beijing are keen to counter the other's contacts with Russia

THE US decision to lift trade sanctions imposed a year ago to punish China for allegedly exporting ballistic missiles to Pakistan reflects the budding military ties between Washington and Beijing.

Earlier this week, Washington announced it would end its restrictions on selling satellite components such as rocket systems, computers, and flight control and avionics equipment in exchange for a Chinese pledge not to export the M-11 surface-to-surface missile, which can carry nuclear warheads and a 1,000-pound payload 185 miles.

The compromise, unveiled during the US visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, comes in anticipation of the mid-October visit of Defense Secretary William Perry to Beijing at a time when China and the United States are exploring avenues of military cooperation to break their recent military standoff.

The agreement also signals some forward momentum as President Clinton plans to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Jakarta at a meeting of Asian Pacific leaders in November.

Relations between the two countries continue to be troubled by disputes over human rights, trade, and US policy toward Taiwan.

A bit of strategy

The Pentagon, which ended a ban on high-level military exchanges imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square repression, is keen to promote direct military contacts and possibly future arms sales as well as counter growing military ties between China and Russia.

China, which is anxious to obtain US satellite technology and other equipment for modernizing its armed forces, does not want to be left out of emerging international security arrangements and is concerned over ties between Russia and Eastern European countries and NATO.

``The Chinese military has made technology transfers a top priority,'' says a Western diplomat in Beijing.

Exchanging brass

This year, the two sides have exchanged visits by high-level military officers, taken steps to include the People's Liberation Army in international peacekeeping operations or joint US-Chinese disaster-relief efforts, and established a Joint Commission on Defense Conversion to discuss transforming US and Chinese military industries into civilian production. The joint commission will be inaugurated during Mr. Perry's visit.

``China is an influential world power playing an important role in safeguarding peace in the Asia/Pacific region and in the world,'' Perry was quoted by the official New China News Agency as telling Deputy Army Chief Gen. Xu Huizi during his recent US visit.

The missile sanctions were imposed in August 1993 when relations between the two countries were deteriorating and the US was charging China with exporting missiles, chemical weapons, and other dangerous weapons.

US officials alleged that China had sent Pakistan parts and technology to assemble the M-11 missiles in violation of the Global Missile Technology Control Regime. Under this pact, formalized in 1987 by Western industrial nations as well as Japan and now including 25 countries, sales of such missiles bar the transfer of certain equipment and related technology. Although China has not signed the agreement, Beijing promised the Bush administration in 1992 that it would honor the agreement.

The shipment of the missile technology was believed to have taken place in December 1992, just a few months after President Bush announced plans to sell F-16 fighter aircrafts to Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. The sale enraged China. It demanded Washington abide by a 1982 agreement to reduce and eventually phase out weapons sales to Taiwan.

China has denied violating the missile-control regulations and has never admitted to providing the missile parts to Pakistan.

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