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STANFORD -- By playing outdated "cat-and-mouse" games with China on arms control, the United States inadvertently embarrassed itself last summer and limits the possibilities for arms control, a Stanford University arms control specialist reported in a paper delivered to the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Tuesday morning, Feb. 22, in San Francisco.
"China and the U.S. are on the same side and could accomplish more by friendly cooperation," said Di Hua, a research associate at the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control.
"To accelerate the arms control process, we must drive the Cold War ghost completely out of our mindset," Hua said.
The United States was anything but friendly last summer, Hua said, when it publicly accused China of exporting illegal chemicals to Iran and demanded a Chinese ship be inspected in Saudi Arabia. Press accounts in early September indicated the inspection uncovered no such chemicals.
Hua, a former high-ranking engineer in China's missile program, said he has since learned from sources in his native China that the chemicals were on the original loading list for the ship Yinhe, but Chinese customs prohibited their export.
The Beijing government didn't want to ship chemicals for weapons-making to Iran and didn't know they were to be shipped, Hua said, until China intercepted a U.S. intelligence agent's report to Washington.
"The U.S. government should have alerted China to the problem in a friendly, and thus private, way," Hua said, but instead waited until the ship was at sea to complain publicly.
"Washington wanted to disgrace China but wound up disgracing its own intelligence instead," he said.
The two chemicals that were allegedly on the Yinhe's cargo list - thionyl chloride and thiodiglycol - can be used to make two poison gases, mustard gas and nerve gas, Hua said.
"But not even all chemists, let alone customs service officers, know what the material can be used for," he said. "Their end use can be ascertained only by chemists specialized in chemical weapons.
"The intended export was not government sponsored nor government agreed," he said his sources have told him. "It happened just because of the difficulties in filtering out all illegal export goods at border customs.
"Similar export check evasions quite often occur in Western developed countries, too," Hua said, "although their customs service officers are better educated and equipped with sophisticated computers."
Materials for chemical weapons control are even more difficult to restrict than materials for nuclear weapons, he said, because of their "odd names" and nondistinctive physical appearance.
After having read and written the Chinese and English names of the two chemicals involved in the Yinhe incident many times, Hua said, "I still cannot spell them in either Chinese or English without going back to my newspaper clip collections."
Hua also said "it was not a planned sting operation. The Chinese did not intend to defame U.S. intelligence." They assumed that after they removed the chemicals from the Yinhe, the American agent would update his information to his bosses in Washington.
Instead, Washington waited for the ship to leave China in August, ordered warships to tail it and went public with accusations that China was violating the chemical arms control treaty it had signed the previous January.
The U.S. government forced several Middle Eastern countries to refuse to allow the ship to dock, keeping it at sea for 24 days, Hua said. Eventually, an arrangement was worked out for Saudi Arabian and Chinese agents to inspect the ship with technical expertise provided to the Saudis by Americans.
After newspapers reported that the inspection had produced nothing, other Asian countries joined China in criticizing the United States.
Instead of being so eager to embarrass one another, countries who claim to advocate arms control should be "cooperative in upgrading customs checking capabilities," Hua said.
Both China and the United States need to update their arms control strategies to post-Cold War realities, he said.
Both sides, he said, also use "morally weak" arguments in support of their positions on nuclear testing when they could get more accomplished if they were "sincere, self-critical and cooperative."
He criticized China for its "all-or-nothing stance that conditions the stop of testing upon the total destruction of nuclear weapons."
"In crossing the river, go stone by stone," he said was the policy proposed by former leaders Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. Current leaders, however, "insist upon jumping across the wide river, full of possible nuclear disasters, all at once."
He criticized the Clinton administration for relying on "unilateral warnings, dictations and sanctions" that cause confrontation with China. For example, he said, the United States warned China against conducting a nuclear test last October.
"For those familiar with Chinese thinking, it was predictable that the warning would not work," Hua said, because "any retreat under pressure . . . would be seen as losing face and inviting more dictation by the superpower."
China tested and Clinton ordered U.S. weapons labs to prepare for a resumption of testing as well. This was also predictable, Hua said, because after issuing the warning, the United States would "lose face" if it did not follow through.
The Chinese, who have tested fewer nuclear weapons than the United States, justify their tests by saying, "I must be allowed to do evil because others have done more evil," he said.
The American response, he said, translates into: "I will resume doing evil if anyone else does."
"If Russia does not resume testing, the United States need not resume either," Hua said, because Russia is the only realistic technical challenger to the leader.
Testing in China's case may advance the overall cause of arms control, Hua said. Instead of insisting it is testing just because others have tested more, China should frankly admit it is testing because it wants to modernize its weapon system to make it more capable of surviving an attack. China's no-first-use policy, he said, means it needs a more mobile system to survive a first strike.
More important than their testing disputes, Hua said, are U.S. and Chinese actions on nuclear and ballistic missile proliferations. In nuclear proliferation, he said, "the United States is unfair in contradicting the judgments of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, which has approved China's exports of civilian-use nuclear technology to Pakistan, Iran and Algeria." The Missile Technology Control Regime, to which both countries have agreed, is a poorly drafted document, he said, that is "arbitrarily interpreted" by the United States.
The biggest ballistic missile proliferation today is the U.S. transfer of Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile technology to Britain, he said, which the United States justifies as an upgrade of Britain's already deployed Polaris missiles.
"If British Polaris can be upgraded," he asked, "why not Iraqi Scud, North Korean Nodong and Saudi Arabian DF-3 missiles?"
Hua also disputed three other United States arguments in favor of the Trident missile transfer - that it is legitimate because the U.S. and Britain are allies, because Britain is a "responsible" member of the international community and because the sales contract was signed before the Missile Technology Control Regime agreement went into place.
"China and North Korea are allied, too, so does the U.S. transfer to Britain mean China can also transfer its submarine-launched ballistic missile JL-1 to North Korea?" Hua asked.
Also, he said, the missile technology control agreement "does not say you can sell any kind of ballistic missiles if the buyer has a good record of responsibility," nor that sales are permitted if contracts were signed before the agreement.
China canceled its contract to sell the M-9 missiles to Syria, he said, although its contract with Syria was signed before China claimed to comply with the Missile Technology Control Regime.
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