Over the past several weeks there has been a flurry of criticism in the Post (editorial, Dec. 12) and elsewhere of the U.S.-China Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation. Particular attention has focused on allegations that the verification procedures are inadequate to the task and that the United States put too little emphasis on nonproliferation in the negotiations. Both allegations are simply wrong. Both miss the big picture.
The big picture clearly shows what's right with the China agreement. The agreement permits U.S. exports to China's peaceful nuclear power program. It contains all the stringent controls required by U.S. law, as strengthened and updated by Congress only a few years ago. It serves U.S. security by helping to ensure that China is part of the solution in nonproliferation, not part of the problem. It makes the world safer by strengthening the barriers to the spread of nuclear weapons to potential nuclear flashpoints around the globe.
From that vantage point, the agreement strongly serves U.S. nonproliferation and security interests. And those interests guided the negotiations from the start. Here's how:
Up until the early 1980s, China's policies worked against the effort to keep more countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. China then argued that the spread of nuclear weapons could help undermine "imperialism." China at that time rejected the basic norm of nonproliferation. It had not accepted any of the basic standards adopted by the major nuclear suppliers.
With the encouragement of the United States, China's nonproliferation policies started to evolve. We made it plain during our negotiations that China's previous posture was unacceptable. We would engage in peaceful nuclear cooperation only if Cina observed sound nonproliferation practices.
Getting there was not easy. Since 1984, however, China has taken actions of historic signifiance for global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It has dropped its reckless rhetoric on proliferation and has unequivocally affirmed support for nuclear nonproliferation. China has made clear that it will not assist other countries to acquire nuclear explosives. It has joined the International Atomic Energy Agency, and now requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear exports.
After the agreement was initiated in April 1984, questions arose concerning China's nonproliferation practices. So we delayed signature for over a year. We chose not to move ahead until these nonproliferation questions were resolved.
The prospect of peaceful nuclear cooperation has significantly encouraged a critical evolution in China's policies and thinking. This evolution is continuing: since last June, China has announced its voluntary acceptance of international safeguards on some peaceful nuclear facilities. Cooperation under the U.S.-China agreement will enable us to influence that the positive evolution even further.
We should now move ahead to cooperate under the agreement, fully expecting that China's actions will be consistent with its assurances on nonproliferation. Should that not be the case, we would cut off exports. China understands this.
So what about the lingering allegation on verification? It is true that the agreement does not include international safeguards, but these are not required for nuclear-weapons states such as China under our very stringent and comprehensive law. The agreement does, however provide for visits by U.S. officials to sites where U.S.-supplied material and equipment are located and for exchanges of information. These arrangements are designed to ensure against misuse of U.S. assistance, and until they are in place, will will not export to China.
With the big picture right and the allegations wrong, it is important to go ahead with the agreement now. That does not mean we like or look away from China's policies as reflected, for example in its U.N. voting record. But it will mean that we can recognize a mutual interest where there is one, and can act accordingly to serve our national security needs.
The writer is assistant director for nuclear and weapons control of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.