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U.S. tech exports eye 'China military threat'

Defense officials say U.S. technology may be used to upgrade China's missile capability
Defense officials say U.S. technology may be used to upgrade China's missile capability  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration says it is reviewing export licenses for U.S. microelectronic products bound for China in an effort to curb the transfer of technology that might be used to boost Beijing's military capabilities.

Describing China as "a potential military threat" Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Lisa Bronson said future applications would be considered with regard to "our evolving understanding of what China wants."

Speaking in Washington to the U.S.-China Commission Thursday Bronson said China was "both a problematic proliferator and the largest potential future market for the U.S."

The 12-member congressionally appointed commission was created in October 2000 to examine the national security implications of U.S. trade with China and is expected to make its first report to congress in June.

A particular focus of the commission is the delicate issue of high-technology exports, which some fear could help boost China's nuclear weapons program or find their way on to what the U.S. calls "rogue states", such as Iran or North Korea.

It must balance those concerns with the arguments of others that overly tight export restrictions could prompt China to buy from other countries, ultimately hurting U.S. businesses and jobs.

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"Nobody is smart enough to know whether the People's Republic of China will be friend or foe 10 or 20 years from now, which makes the transfer of technology more difficult," said commissioner Michael Ledeen, a former policy adviser to the Reagan administration.

In her testimony to the commission Bronson said China was at present putting particular effort into the development of small rocket boosters capable of launching satellites "at a moment's notice in a contingency."

She did not elaborate, but military analysts say technology ostensibly destined for peaceful space programs can easily be switched to development of more advanced missiles.

Last week Beijing rejected as "baseless" a report from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency saying China planned to boost its arsenal of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States from 20 to more than 100.

The report said Beijing sees a larger, more advanced long-range missile force as essential to maintaining its nuclear deterrence capability -- particularly as the Bush administration pushes ahead with plans for a missile defense shield.

In particular the CIA report said China is avidly pursuing the development of advanced multiple warhead-carrying rockets, a project which some intelligence officials say is based on illicitly acquired U.S. technology.


A recent CIA report said China was seeking to boost its nuclear deterrent capability against the U.S.
A recent CIA report said China was seeking to boost its nuclear deterrent capability against the U.S.  

Officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce say exports to China already face far greater scrutiny than with other trading partners.

Speaking to the commission panel Thursday James J. Jochum, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, said China accounted for 12 percent of all the export licenses handled by his department.

He said most license requests were approved, but under strict conditions, such as follow-up inspections to make sure the equipment is being used for the approved purpose.

However another commerce official said rules for inspections had not kept up with technological developments, and that the volume of work was hard to keep up with.

Michael J. Garcia, Assistant Commerce Secretary for Export Enforcement, said the department was required to conduct follow-up inspections of all computers considered "high-performance" when they were exported.

He said that included those that would not be considered particularly powerful by today's standards -- and wouldn't be subjected to current export controls.

"The sheer volume of these backlog checks, combined with our limited enforcement resources, diminishes our ability to choose and conduct those targeted checks which we believe are most critical to our national security interests," Garcia said.




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