Chinese Nuclear Sales Flout Western Embargoes

CARVED into a pine-covered hill overlooking Hangzhou Bay, the white-washed Qinshan nuclear power plant stands as a gleaming symbol of a stubborn nuclear menace.

The 300-megawatt pressurized--water reactor, which began operations in December, is a model for a facility China will begin constructing in northern Pakistan on April 1, officials in China's nuclear industry say.

China is making the reactor sale despite a growing nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India and a Western-led embargo on nuclear technology sales to Pakistan.

The West hopes its embargo will compel Islamabad to endorse the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bars the export of nuclear weaponry and requires inspection of nuclear fuel supplies and facilities.

Western countries must discourage Beijing from reckless transfers of nuclear technology if they hope to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, experts in nuclear proliferation say. (China's nuclear sales, Page 3.)

Under diplomatic pressure, China in the past several months has acknowledged some nuclear deals that experts say have heightened tensions in volatile regions. But China probably continues to make other nuclear sales in secret, the experts say.

"China is the last big holdout in the world when it comes to nuclear technology sales," says Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based organization tracing nuclear proliferation.

Beijing aggressively sells nuclear technology in North Africa and the Middle East, contributing significantly to the nuclear programs of Iran, Syria, and Algeria.

"You're seeing [China's] hand in quite a few places. It's not just Iran, and Syria, and Algeria - it's all the radical or potentially radical states in the region," says Leonard Spector, an expert on proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Since the end of the cold war, the West has gained unprecedented leverage for moving Beijing toward a safe nuclear export policy, the experts say. Western countries can goad China toward a responsible export policy without fearing they will drive it into the arms of a hostile superpower.

For example, Western nations regularly remind China that the most dynamic part of its economy depends on exports to the West. The US Congress recently voted to deny China tariff exemptions if it continues to disregard international standards in human rights and in the sale of missiles and nuclear technology. President Bush vetoed the bill March 3.

As a result of diplomatic prodding, China says it will soon formally ratify the NPT and continue its longstanding stated policy of exporting nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only. Beijing also says it has required two conditions from recipient countries: international inspection of the goods and a pledge not to transfer the technology to a third country without China's approval.

"As a whole, China plays by international rules in the export of nuclear technology and we are very sincere," says Li Yinxiang, general administration office director at the China National Nuclear Corporation in Beijing.

However, Beijing will probably continue to traffic in destabilizing nuclear technology to a degree, the proliferation experts say.

"I expect there will be leakage [of China's technology]; I don't expect the NPT will mean the end of that," Mr. Spector says.

In the first of many secret deals, China trained North Koreans in nuclear technology in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the experts say. And during the 1980s China is widely believed to have supplied nuclear materials to South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Syria, Iran, and India, according to the experts.

Moreover, China is said to have helped Iraq to construct special magnets in 1989 for stabilizing high-speed centrifuges used in uranium enrichment.

EACH sale could be of use to nuclear bomb programs in those countries. In defiance of guidelines for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, China made the sales without notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The "past conduct [of Chinese officials] indicates that they are very likely to go ahead and break their word," says Mr. Milhollin at the Wisconsin Project.

Indeed, officials operating the Qinshan nuclear power plant apparently have a laissez faire attitude toward their technology.

"What countries do with our technology is none of our business," says Yao Qiming, deputy general manager at Qinshan.

The recent sale to Pakistan illustrates how China's words and actions clash.

Chinese officials say they support the campaign of major nuclear suppliers to coax countries into joining the NPT by withholding nuclear technology from them. But the deal between China and Pakistan "undermines the de facto embargo on reactor sales to Pakistan," which has not signed the treaty, Milhollin says. "China is definitely a renegade supplier."

The sale of the turnkey plant is the most lucrative, publicly confirmed nuclear transfer by China on record. Chinese officials decline to quote the price but Beijing spent $650 million to build the Qinshan plant, Mr. Yao says. The Pakistan facility will differ from Qinshan in only minor ways, Chinese officials say.

During the seven years in construction, China will train Pakistani nuclear technicians at Qinshan. Chinese technicians will also help operate the plant after its start-up, Chinese officials say.

Pakistan has eased its resistance to foreign perusal of its nuclear program and agreed to allow the IAEA to inspect the facility. Still, the plant will probably worsen tension over nuclear arms between India and Pakistan, the proliferation experts say.

"There is always a risk that inspections will not be adequate and Pakistan could divert some material from the reactor for military uses," Milhollin says.

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