Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige said today that the Reagan administration will have new guidelines in place within 60 days for streamlined decisions on high-technology sales to China, including transfers of equipment with military application.
Among other items, China has requests in Washington for sophisticated hardware including 23 Earth satellite receiving stations valued at $1 million each for gathering geological data and a $12 million ground satellite tracking system. Sources are predicting sales reaching hundreds of millions of dollars this year.
Although President Reagan decided in 1981 to allow such sophisticated technology sales to China, the Communist government here has bitterly complained of bureaucratic delays frustrating its purchase of equipment for the nation's modernization. The issue has contributed to the general souring of bilateral relations in the past two years.
"We believe that the level of cases actually approved and the speed at which they are approved will be significantly ahead of what's been happening in the last two years," he said at a news conference, adding that he told Chinese officials that some of their longstanding requests are in the "final stage" of approval.
Baldrige, who headed a U.S. delegation here to discuss ways of expanding bilateral trade, was accorded a lukewarm reception during his four days of talks. He met Premier Zhao Ziyang today and financial officials earlier, but he was not invited to see China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping.
The initial Chinese reaction to Baldrige's visit has been mixed, with Zhao quoted as saying he welcomed the "results" of the secretary's talks while pointing out the "big gap between the progress and potential of China and the United States."
Although Baldrige refused to cite examples, he said some of the technology to be sold to China has potential for military adaptation under guidelines outlined by Reagan in 1981.
The president decided to exempt China from the export restrictions placed on other Communist countries, permitting it to buy certain civilian equipment that can be converted to military use.
Although $400 million of such "dual-use" technology was sold to China last year, the administration has balked at requests for sophisticated hardware, including $15 million worth of computers for China's disorganized university system, the Earth stations and the tracking system.
Baldrige declined to discuss specific Chinese requests at his news conference or specify the quantitative and qualitative levels of technology that would be made available by breaking the bureaucratic logjam in Washington.
Informed sources, however, predicted new technology sales reaching hundreds of millions of dollars this year, with equipment exceeding the sophistication of the large IBM 4341 computers sold in 1982 for use in the first nationwide Chinese census in 18 years.
Peking's one-year wait for the census computers sparked its anger over technology transfers.
Chinese leaders seized on the issue as further evidence of Reagan's low regard for the Sino-American relationship, which also has been battered recently by U.S. arms sales to the rival Chinese government on Taiwan, U.S. import quotas on Chinese textiles and U.S. asylum granted to Chinese tennis star Hu Na.
Baldrige, the highest administration official to visit Peking since Communist rulers broke off official cultural and sports ties following the Hu incident this year, emphasized Reagan's commitment to "significantly increase the level of technology transfers" to China. The president's will, however, has been frustrated by bureaucratic red tape, interagency bickering and national security concerns, according to Baldrige.
As an example of technical difficulties, he said export control regulations include 14 different guidelines for the sale of computers to China. "That's too many," he observed.
While the administration will operate within the limits of national security, said Baldrige, Peking can count on greater "predictability in advance that cases will be handled quickly and with certainty so that you can tell pretty much. . .what will be able to go under our policy and what won't."
"We are in effect saying that we will improve the process and the system so that Chinese will see results in an actual improvement in technology transfer over and above what we've been able to do before," he told reporters.
Although the U.S. technology sought by China is designed for civilian uses, conservative administration officials reportedly worry about its possible adaption for military purposes.
China, for example, has bid for the ground satellite tracking station to receive agricultural and geological data from the U.S. Landsat network of Earth-monitoring satellites. The same equipment, if adorned with certain devices, could be converted to military uses, according to western diplomats.
Similar security concerns are said to underlie U.S. objection to a Belgian project for manufacturing telephone equipment in China valued at $250 million. Washington is pressing its case in COCOM, the unofficial western watchdog body on exports of sensitive products to Communist countries.