Last-minute move keeps super-computer bid alive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 1993, 12:00am

CHINA'S controversial bid to buy an American super-computer is being kept partially alive through a last-minute move by former president Mr George Bush before he left office earlier this month.

One day before leaving office, Mr Bush quietly agreed that the United States should continue the complex process of selling the high-speed computer to China, despite opposition from Defence Department officials and lawmakers.

Despite Mr Bush's move, a final decision on the sale will still rest with the new Clinton administration, which has pledged to be tougher on China.

China has said it wants the super-computer to improve weather forecasting, but American defence and intelligence officials and lawmakers fear Beijing will secretly divert the technology for military use.

Several US officials had earlier said Mr Bush left the computer sale issue ''hanging'' when he left office.

But what the former president had in fact done was to keep China's bid to buy the computer alive by referring the sale to the Paris-based Co-ordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls, known as Cocom.

Cocom, whose members include mostly Western countries and Japan, must approve the transfer of high-technology to communist nations such as China.

As such, Mr Bush could not have approved an export licence for the computer sale to China without Cocom's blessing.

In addition, the US has a separate bilateral agreement with Japan to control the export of super-computers to third countries, which means Tokyo must approve any sales to China.

Following Mr Bush's move, the US asked China earlier this month to accept a long list of safeguards designed to prevent Beijing from diverting the technology.

Sources said discussions with China on the safeguards were continuing.

They said that even if China accepted all the safeguards there was no guarantee that Cocom would approve the sale, especially because the US had previously vetoed hi-tech sales by other Cocom members to restricted countries.