House Seeks to Limit Space Cooperation with China

By Diamond, Howard | Arms Control Today, May 1998 | Go to article overview

House Seeks to Limit Space Cooperation with China


Diamond, Howard, Arms Control Today


WITH PRESIDENT Bill Clinton preparing for a late-June summit in China with President Jiang Zemin, the House of Representatives on May 22 passed a series of amendments that would cut off peaceful U.S. space cooperation with Beijing. The explosion of political interest in U.S. satellite exports to China, which motivated the House action, threatens the administration's strategy of leveraging improvement in Beijing's missile proliferation behavior with commercial incentives. Washington has been trying to persuade China to end its sales of missile components and technology controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) by offering Beijing additional opportunities to launch U.S. satellites.

Amid consideration of the fiscal year (FY) 1999 National Defense Authorization Act, the House overwhelmingly adopted four amendments relating to the satellite issue. The first, a non-binding resolution offered by National Security Committee Chairman Floyd Spence (R-SC), urged the administration to freeze U.S. space cooperation with China and to not use space cooperation as an incentive for changing China's proliferation practices. The other three amendments, introduced by Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Douglas Bereuter (R-NE) and Joel Hefley (R-CO), would, respectively, forbid U.S. commercial satellite exports to China, prohibit U.S. citizens from participating in technical reviews of failed Chinese satellite launches, and preclude all U.S. exports of MTCR-controlled technology to China.

The House action came in the wake of a flurry of news reports alleging first, that China may be gaining militarily valuable information simply from launching U.S. commercial satellites; second, that two U.S. satellite makers may have made an unauthorized transfer of technical information during a review of a Chinese launch failure; and third, that the Clinton administration's policy on the satellite issue may have been influenced by six-figure campaign contributions by U.S. satellite firms, and possibly even by a Chinese military-owned aerospace conglomerate. Adding to the furor around the satellite launch issue is President Clinton's 1996 decision to classify commercial communications satellites as dual-use items rather than munitions list items. The change in classification was urged by the U.S. satellite industry, and shifted primary export control responsibility from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

Currently, space cooperation between the United States and China is limited by sanctions passed by Congress after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Each launch of a U.S. satellite on a Chinese rocket must be cleared with a presidential waiver. The Bush administration issued nine such waivers in three years; the Clinton administration has granted 11 in five years. U.S. officials have argued that space launch opportunities have been a key incentive in getting China to control its missile technology exports.

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