At last, missile curbs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 12:00am

Six years ago, China reached an agreement with the United States not to export ballistic missiles and to adhere, unofficially, to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Regulations announced over the weekend to curb exports of missile-related technology have been an excruciatingly long time coming to meet those commitments; nevertheless, they are a progressive step towards addressing US concerns that Chinese missile technology could find its way to 'rogue states'.

The regulations have at least set up a licensing system for the export of missile-related technology from China. Companies will not be allowed to export a number of potentially sensitive items (which have not yet been publicly listed) without official approval. This is an important change. Previously, Beijing had responded to US complaints about the export of technologies that could be used for missile development with a shrug, saying that these exports, if they did occur, were by individual enterprises over which the authorities had no control. The new regulations will now put the onus on enterprises to gain clearance for the export of technologies (eventually) listed by the government.

There is more than altruism at work here, of course. Coming the day before Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Beijing, the announcement is expected to mute a previously contentious issue ahead of President Jiang Zemin's proposed visit to the United States in October.

Still, Washington is unlikely to be satisfied with the extent of the regulations, which do not place an outright ban on the export of missile-related technology. Yet this is hardly surprising. Beijing clearly sees the export of missile technologies as a key card to play in the bigger game of regional security.

Specifically, Washington's arms sales to Taiwan will surely be a factor in the progress of further talks on missile technology between China and the United States. Whether and how the US adjusts its sanctions on Chinese companies accused of exporting missile-related technology will also be a factor.