White House: Chinese Launches Aid U.S.
By Walter Pincus and John Mintz
Clinton administration officials made their case to two skeptical congressional committees yesterday that the controversy about American satellite deals with China is overblown, and that allowing U.S. spacecraft to be launched aboard Chinese rockets helps persuade the Beijing government to stop selling weaponry to other nations.
Meanwhile, the House voted 409-10 to set up a special nine-member committee with far-reaching authority to look into whether U.S. national security was undermined by Clinton administration actions allowing launch of U.S. satellites on Chinese Long March rockets.
The committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) was given wide subpoena powers and the ability to examine tax records of people and businesses it deems relevant dating back to 1988.
In addition, testimony by Central Intelligence Agency officials before congressional intelligence committees this week sharpened the disagreement between the CIA and the Pentagon over the likelihood that information, given to Chinese space officials by engineers for Loral Space & Communications Ltd. after a failed 1996 launch, helped Beijing improve its ballistic missiles.
CIA officials do not believe that such a crossover of technology from the Long March to the Chinese ballistic missile program took place, according to sources. That is because the guidance system on the Chinese nuclear missiles is even older than the guidance employed on the newer Long March rocket that exploded in February 1996. "The component that failed and its technology are not used in existing or in planned Chinese nuclear missiles," said one source, summarizing the CIA's view.
But Air Force intelligence has concluded that the technological data that the Loral engineers supplied to the Chinese a post-accident report on the possible causes of the 1996 explosion, in which a Loral satellite was destroyed "could" help Beijing in future space launches and could be detrimental to U.S. interests, according to one source familiar with an Air Force report on the matter.
The State Department's view of the Loral incident, sources said, is that the information that the Loral employee provided "may" or "could" provide technological assistance for future Chinese ballistic missile guidance systems. "They [the Chinese] were given some stuff, but there is a question of whether they have used it or will use it," said one government official familiar with the various agencies' reports.
As a series of hearings into the administration's policy and the Loral case in particular continued, four ranking Clinton administration officials defended their agencies' record in arranging space deals with China.
William A. Reinsch, undersecretary of commerce for export administration, testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that U.S. satellite companies have contracts worth $1.7 billion with Chinese rocket firms, and that this work will help support 16,000 U.S. jobs over the next five years.
John D. Holum, acting undersecretary of state for arms control, told a joint House hearing of the National Security and International Relations committees that U.S. space commerce with China is a "carrot" that encourages its leaders to slow or halt their sales of Chinese missiles to nations such as Iran and Pakistan.
"The prospect of launching U.S. satellites," Holum said, "is an important inducement to a positive evolution in Chinese policy, which in turn is indispensable to the containment of proliferation in a dangerous world."
But Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the International Relations Committee, noted that last year Holum offered the opposite view that satellite deals with China had failed to rein in its missile sales, and that only trade sanctions would succeed.
"There's been no evidence to date that this [trade] policy is having any effect," Holum said in a 1997 memo produced by Gilman. "It's time to reassess this policy." China stops its weapons proliferation only "in the face of a penalty being imposed. Carrots have gotten us nothing."
Holum replied that he wrote that when he was head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which is focused solely on disarmament issues. Now, he pointed out, he also is an undersecretary of state. "We deny China essentially nothing" when the United States imposes unilateral sanctions on Beijing, he said, "but we deny ourselves a great deal" in trade.
Republican members of the House committees also cross-examined the administration officials about the fact that since 1996 the Chinese Long March has had a perfect launch record and that before that one-fourth of its launches failed. Henry Sokolski, an anti-proliferation activist and a Pentagon official in the Bush administration, said the improved record was evidence that U.S. participation in their launches is leading to Chinese progress.
Commerce's Reinsch said those recent launches are so few they constitute an "insufficient record."
Jan Lodal, principal deputy defense undersecretary for policy, testified that it was "hard to figure out all the causes" of any possible improvement in the Long March's rate of success. But, he added, "we don't believe there's been any transfer of these sensitive [U.S.] technologies to Chinese military programs." Dave Tarbel, director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, said he agreed.
That prompted a sarcastic retort from Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), chairman of the National Security committee.
"Gentlemen, thank you," Spence said. "I know you put in long hours on that." Moments before, Spence had congratulated the administration officials "for spending so much time getting your stories together."
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