When Sun Microsystems Inc. sold one of its supercomputers to a
Hong Kong firm, they were told that it was going to a scientific
institute near Beijing.
When United States officials finally traced it, the computer was
at a military research facility 800 miles from the Chinese capital.
The case, reported by the Commerce Department last week, is only
the latest in a string of alleged improper diversions of US
high-technology to Chinese and Russian defense facilities. It
underscores a growing concern among some US officials and defense
experts that since President Clinton began easing export controls
in his first term, China and Russia have begun covertly using US
technologies to develop military hardware - including nuclear
weapons - that could threaten US security.
Privately, some US officials say they believe American
technology sold for civilian purposes, but has military
applications, is being resold to US foes, including Iran.
"China has become the single most important source of technology
that rogue countries cannot obtain from the West," asserts one US
official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Russia is fast
becoming the second."
China and Russia deny such contentions, and the Clinton
administration insists these incidents are isolated, adding that
the most sensitive US know-how is not falling into the hands of
potential military rivals.
Still, the administration has raised the cases with China and
Russia, and a federal grand jury is now probing the 1995 diversion
of US-made aircraft machining equipment to a Chinese defense plant.
Although the issue is being overshadowed on Capitol Hill by the
Senate hearings on alleged Chinese political influence-buying, it
is adding to the friction between the GOP-run Congress and Mr.
Clinton over Sino-US relations. And it's fueling doubts about US
policy toward Russia.
Ignoring the vociferous protests of the electronics industry,
the House last month passed a 1998 defense budget that would
reimpose the export controls on US-made supercomputers that Clinton
loosened in 1995. The Senate was expected to consider a similar
measure yesterday, raising the possibility of a presidential veto.
Losing market share?
At the heart of the issue lies the ever-intensifying competition
for lucrative markets. In the post-cold-war era, American companies
successfully lobbied to lift export controls on computer hardware
and software, arguing they were losing sales to foreign firms. The
Clinton administration supports the shift, insisting that it can
safeguard American technological dominance and national security.
The most advanced know-how is withheld from export and the
administration is working to prevent Iran and other US foes from
obtaining sensitive technologies. …