China Reaps High-Tech Imports, Though Rights Abuses Continue
HONG KONG — THE Bush administration is offering China and its military unprecedented access to valuable technology despite continued human-rights abuses by Beijing.The United States and other industrialized democracies have eased restrictions on exports to China of scores of technologies suitable for both weaponry and civilian goods. The decontrol of high-tech exports to China coincides with the administration's steady retreat from sanctions it imposed after the 1989 massacre of liberal activists in Beijing. The US and its allies eased the export rules in response to the reduced Soviet military threat and the request by businesses for more access to the China market. They did not consider the impact of the decontrols on human rights in China, a Commerce Department official in Washington said, confirming the more-liberal high-tech export policy. US diplomats in Hong Kong and Beijing have been briefed in recent days on the export rules enacted Sept. 1. Under the new controls, the 17 member nations of the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) have cut by half the number of high-tech goods requiring special licenses for export to China and former Soviet bloc countries. Western trade officials defend the new guidelines by saying that for several months China has been able to buy many of the newly decontrolled products from countries like Singapore and South Korea, which are not subject to COCOM export rules. The offer of a much wider range of high technology to China seems to contradict public assurances by the Bush administration. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in announcing a proposal to ease COCOM guidelines on May 2, 1990, suggested that the US and its COCOM partners might decontrol some technologies for China. But Mr. Fitzwater, when asked to reconcile the proposed relaxation with the administration's censure of China's human-rights record, said that as a general rule, China would not enjoy greater access to technology under the revised COCOM guidelines. Similarly, President Bush pledged last May to tighten restraints on high-tech exports to China when he announced that he would ask Congress to extend China's most-favored-nation trade status. The Bush administration in June banned exports to China of some high-performance computers. But the number of banned items is small compared to the number of products recently decontrolled by COCOM. Although the US and its COCOM partners bar weapons sales to China, they sell China computers and other advanced technology suitable for both the military and the marketplace. New COCOM rules reduce the number of restricted electronic components by about 45 percent. Among items allowed without a license are computers using microprocessors as powerful as Intel Corporation's 80386 chip. As a matter of policy, COCOM does not consider human-rights issues when drawing up its export rules. It regulates high-tech exports to potential US adversaries according to their level of military threat, the Commerce Department official said. "COCOM is not designed to be a group responding to ... Tiananmen and those kind of concerns, and that is why the United States has gone on to take additional steps" to decontrol technologies, the Commerce Department official said on condition of anonymity. "It's not that the issue [of human rights] is off the radar screen; it's just not one that's considered to be in COCOM's portfolio." The official said that although the administration disregarded human-rights issues in revising the COCOM rules, it did to a degree consider commercial concerns. Western diplomats in Hong Kong and Beijing say the revision of COCOM guidelines is part of efforts by industrialized democracies to help their domestic companies compete in China. "For a long time we were under a lot of pressure from businesses to reduce the list of technologies restricted under COCOM," a Western diplomat in Beijing says on condition of anonymity. The COCOM relaxation gives China a greater choice of high-tech suppliers and so ostensibly enables it to pay less for the same products previously available only from non-COCOM countries. The new COCOM rules offer China access to scores of high technologies of a broad variety, including telecommunications, computers, machine tools, and sophisticated instruments. Many high-tech items that once needed individual licenses before shipment to China may now be exported under the general licenses required of household appliances and other basic products, the officials say. "We are very much back to business as usual," says another Western diplomat in Beijing. China imported $1.57 billion worth of high technology from January to June this year, or 23.6 percent more than in all of 1990, according to China's State Science and Technology Commission.