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Excerpt from Document 18: "U.S. Interaction with the PRC Concerning the PRC's Nuclear Relationship with Pakistan," 28 November 1989

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China, Pakistan, and the Bomb:
The Declassified File on U.S. Policy, 1977-1997

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 114

March 5, 2004

William Burr, editor

Washington D.C., 5 March 2004 - The recent turnaround in Libya's nuclear policies and the many disclosures of Pakistan's role as a super-proliferator of nuclear weapons technology produced another extraordinary revelation: the discovery by U.S. and British intelligence of Chinese language material among the nuclear weapons design documents that Pakistan had supplied the Libyans. (Note 1) The exact subject matter of the documents remains secret, but the discovery was no surprise to students of nuclear proliferation or to China and Pakistan watchers. China's nuclear relationship with Pakistan was a matter of great concern to U.S. government officials over the course of four presidential administrations. Since the early 1980s, at least, allegations abounded that the Chinese government provided the Pakistanis with nuclear weapons technology, including design information. (Note 2) This assistance may have continued through the mid-1990s, or even later, though much remains conjectural.

Until the revelations from the Libyan files, no evidence had surfaced that conclusively linked China with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. But the revelation on the Chinese documents is only one piece of the puzzle; questions remain about the nature of the China-Pakistan nuclear relationship--its origins and its extent--that may not be settled for many years. How and why this nuclear relationship emerged can only be a matter of speculation. Certainly, for many years, Beijing's official position was that it would not help other countries acquire nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, during the years after China's first nuclear test in October 1964, its nuclear weapons policy was complex and ambivalent. On the one hand, even as it developed its small nuclear arsenal, Beijing supported a complete ban of nuclear weapons and their ultimate elimination. On the other hand, Beijing railed against the superpower's nuclear monopoly, declaring that non-nuclear states had the right to develop nuclear weapons on their own, just as it had. Moreover, after the signing of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (1968), China treated it as another unequal treaty, allowing the great powers to keep their arsenals while prohibiting sovereign nations from taking self-defense measures. (Note 3)

China's professed opposition to sharing nuclear weapons technology with non-nuclear states may have led to compromise of principle when security and economic interests were at stake. Well before the question of nuclear sharing emerged, China and Pakistan, each having an adversarial relationship with India, had developed a close understanding involving significant military cooperation. When the U.S. cut off sales of weapons to both India and Pakistan because of their 1965 border conflict, China became Pakistan's main supplier of weapons. The close relationship with China became one of the pillars of Pakistani foreign policy. When India held its first nuclear test in 1974, and Pakistan made decisions to acquire its own capability to build nuclear weapons, it may have seemed a matter of course for elements in the Chinese military, which had a powerful voice in Beijing's nuclear establishment, eventually to decide to lend Pakistan a hand. (Note 4)

The interests that propelled Beijing to assist Pakistan's nuclear program became competitive, during the 1980s and 1990s, with other sets of interests pushing for a stronger Chinese role in global nuclear nonproliferation efforts. While reports of Beijing's transfer of nuclear weapons designs and sensitive technologies circulated, the two governments signed a nuclear cooperation agreement and conducted negotiations over the sale of Chinese nuclear reactors. At the same time, Beijing became a full member of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, joining the International Atomic Energy Authority in 1984 and signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1992 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1995. Moreover, China began to work closely with Washington and other powers in trying to curb the North Korean nuclear program and in restricting trade in sensitive nuclear technology. As China's market economy developed greater complexity, central authorities could not always control events, which is what may happened when a Chinese firm sold ring magnets used for the production of highly enriched uranium to Pakistan in 1995. (Note 5)

Exactly what the United States government knew (or believed it knew) about Chinese nuclear sharing with Pakistan and when it knew it, remains highly secret. So far no intelligence reports on the issues have been declassified, although during the Clinton years Washington Times correspondent Bill Gertz published highly damaging communications intercepts on Chinese-Pakistan nuclear transactions in 1996. (Note 6) In light of the sensitivities involved--U.S. relations with two highly important partners, Pakistan and China--the relevant details may not be declassified for many years. Moreover, the presidential records that would shed light on how consecutive administrations tried to reconcile the larger goal of engagement with Beijing with specific concerns about nuclear proliferation issues remain secret. Within the limits imposed by the secrecy system, this briefing book sheds light on how U.S. government officials looked at the China-Pakistan nuclear relationship, their persistent efforts to discourage it, the repeated denials by Chinese diplomats, and the evolution of China's nuclear nonproliferation policy. Among the disclosures are:

  • U.S. unease over secret China-Pakistan security and military cooperation during the late 1960s
  • Chinese assistance to Pakistani nuclear-weapons related projects in 1977
  • the refusal by Chinese diplomats in 1982 to give an "unequivocal answer" to queries about nuclear weapons aid to Pakistan
  • the conclusion reached by State Department analysts in 1983 that China was assisting with the production of fissile materials and possibly with the design of weapons
  • the George H. W. Bush administration's concern in 1989 over "reports of Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program"
  • denials by Chinese diplomats that same year of reports of Chinese nuclear aid to Pakistan
  • U.S. pressure on China in 1992 to impose full-scope safeguards on the sale of a nuclear reactor to Pakistan because of proliferation concerns
  • more disquiet (late 1992) over China's "continuing activities with Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs"
  • the Clinton administration's 1997 certification of improvements in Beijing's nuclear proliferation policies

The revelations about the China-Pakistan nuclear connection coincided with Beijing's recent application to join the 30 member Nuclear Suppliers Group that tries to regulate international trade in nuclear materials and technologies in order to check weapons proliferation. (Note 7) It is possible that tensions between nonproliferation, foreign policy, and commercial goals will continue to complicate Beijing's policies as it has that of other nuclear states. Nevertheless, Beijing's decision to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group suggests that it is moving much closer toward full participation in the global nonproliferation regime and away from the narrowly nationalistic approach that characterized its nuclear relationship with Pakistan. To the extent that Chinese government agencies actually transmitted nuclear weapons design information to Pakistan, one can only hope that the spin-off from Pakistan never leaked into private hands.

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Document 1: Thomas Hughes, Director of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State, to Director of Central Intelligence, W.F. Raborn, 21 July 1965, enclosing paper on U.S.-Pakistan policy problems, Secret
Source: U.S. National Archives, CIA Research Tool (CREST)

Well before Washington was concerned about Chinese nuclear sharing with Pakistan, U.S. government officials worried about the close China-Pakistan relationship. During the mid-1960s, when the Johnson administration was escalating the Vietnam War and U.S.-China relations remained tense, top policymakers defined Pakistan as a problem. Not only were the Pakistanis loosening security ties with the United States and keeping their distance from U.S. Vietnam policy, the White House and the State Department believed that they were getting too close to China, even to the point of allegedly signing a secret security understanding with Beijing. (Note 8) That the two neighboring countries had highly tense relations with India was central to their close cooperation, but that did not make the Johnson administration any more sympathetic. Significantly, a Pakistani effort to convey a message from Beijing warning Washington about the Vietnam War failed when President Johnson canceled Ayub Khan's visit. Not long before Hughes sent this paper to CIA, President Johnson decided to cut signal displeasure over Pakistan's tilt to Beijing by postponing a meeting of the aid consortium, which had provided a forum for U.S. pledges of economic aid. Tensions would grow during the following months as an India-Pakistan crisis over Kashmir broke out, which threatened to bring in the Chinese. (Note 9)

Document 2: George C. Denney, Deputy Director of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State, to Secretary Rusk, "Pakistan and Communist China Strengthen Cooperation," 4 December 1968, Secret
Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 59, Records of the Department of State, Subject-Numeric Files, 1967-1969, POL 1 Chicom-Pak

The Johnson administration would continue to be troubled by signs of close and highly secret cooperation between China and Pakistan. Not only were border and military cooperation growing, apparently the Pakistani military had given the Chinese access to U.S. F-104 supersonic fighter aircraft, in violation of the acceptance agreement with the Pentagon. This generosity made the Chinese just as obliging in providing substantial interest free loans. No doubt, realpolitik accounted for this neighborliness. As INR noted, China was willing to "overlook ideological factors in dealing with Pakistan." As this document was written, the Nixon administration was coming to power. Ironically, it was the close China-Pakistan relationship that would serve the Nixon administration so well when it began its search for secret back channels to convey its strong interest in rapprochement with Beijing. Indeed, suspicions of Pakistan dissolved as the Nixon administration tilted policy toward Pakistan, for example, during the 1971 South Asian war. (Note 10)

Document 3: " Proposed Cable to Tehran on Pakistani Nuclear Processing," 12 May 1976, Secret
Source: National Archives, Records of the State Department, Record Group 59, Office of the Counselor, 1955-1977, box 3, Chron-Official April-June 1976

During the mid-1970s, in the wake of India's "peaceful" nuclear explosion, nuclear proliferation concerns grew as governments in Asia (Taiwan, South Korea and Pakistan) and Latin America (Argentina and Brazil) showed interest in acquiring weapons capabilities. Moreover, growing competition among national nuclear power industries and increased interest in nuclear energy raised intense concerns about "safeguarding" nuclear reactor exports so they were not used for military purposes. One issue that emerged during 1976 was Pakistan's quest for nuclear reprocessing facilities as part of a program to acquire nuclear weapons fuel. During this meeting, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and State Department advisers discussed the difficult problems raised by Pakistan's nuclear weapons ambitions. One interesting sidelight was the brief mention of intelligence reporting on Pakistan-Libyan discussions of nuclear cooperation. Another subject of discussion was the negotiations between Iran and the United States on nuclear cooperation and the newly proposed "Symington Amendment" which aimed at cutting off U.S. military aid to countries that engaged in unsafeguarded nuclear activities.

Document 4: Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to National Security Assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Nuclear Safeguards - Pakistan, South Africa, China," 14 July 1977, Secret
Source: State Department Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Release

By the time that the Jimmy Carter administration had come to power in early 1977, the U.S. had working relations with China and full diplomatic relations would go into effect later in 1978. One of the major issues that President Carter had campaigned on was the problem of nuclear proliferation. After he came to power, the Pakistani nuclear program remained worrisome, as indicated by Secretary of State Vance, who supported initiatives to constrain Pakistan's access to nuclear fuel fabrication services. In this way, Vance hoped to encourage Pakistan to cancel or postpone its reprocessing project. As he noted, one problem was a pending deal with the French for a reprocessing plant at Chashma; the French wanted to disengage from the contract and were already dragging their feet on it. Another complicating factor was China, which was starting to offer fuel services and technical assistance to Pakistan's KANUPP heavy water reactor (whose fuel would later be a source of plutonium). China's assistance made it important, Vance observed, to share U.S. disquiet about nuclear proliferation with the Chinese. In any event, when it was evident that the Pakistanis were pushing the French to make good on the reprocessing contract, Carter and his advisers had decided that Islamabad was going too far. In September 1977, without invoking the Symington amendment, the administration cut off military and economic aid to Pakistan. (Note 11)

Document 5: State Department cable to U.S. Embassy, Austria, "Pakistan Nuclear Issue: Briefing of IAEA Director General Eklund", 9 July 1979, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA Release

Later in 1978, when the French drastically slowed down work on the Chashma plant, the Carter administration restored aid to Pakistan. Nevertheless, the Pakistanis pursued alternative strategies for acquiring nuclear fuels leading Carter to formally invoke the Symington amendment in the spring of 1979 and cut off economic and military aid for the second time. In June 1979, Carter's top diplomatic representative on nuclear proliferation issues, Ambassador-at-Large Gerard C. Smith (who had negotiated the SALT I agreement),briefed the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Sigvard Eklund, on the latest evidence on Pakistan's efforts to develop reprocessing facilities and acquire technology for centrifuge machines (for producing highly enriched uranium). (Robert Galluci, then with the State Department Policy Planning Staff, provided the detailed briefing, not included in the text of this document). In a later meeting, Smith expressed some optimism that there was "some time" to stop the Pakistani program but Eklund was not so sanguine. Plainly a believer in peaceful nuclear power, Eklund was most worried that "a Pakistani explosive capability [was] a serious threat to nuclear power programs of the future."

Document 6: Friday Morning Session, September 14, 1979, General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, Secret, Excised Copy, Excerpt
Source: State Department FOIA Release

The General Advisory Committee (GAC) on Arms Control and Disarmament was a high-level presidentially-appointed body of former officials and scientific experts that offered policy advice to the White House, the State Department, and the former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Created during the 1960s, its first chairman was the quintessential establishment figure John J. McCloy. During the Carter years Thomas Watson (Nixon's second ambassador to France) chaired the GAC; other members were McGeorge Bundy, Brent Scowcroft, Wolfgang Panofsky, and Paul Doty. When the committee met on 14 September 1979, nuclear proliferation was high on the agenda, with the assistant director of ACDA's Non-Proliferation Bureau, Charles Van Doren, providing a detailed briefing on the "immediate tough cases." Pakistan headed the list--the "makings ….of another Indian disaster"--and Van Doren reviewed efforts at "slowing down the process", the impact of the Symington amendment, the implications for global nuclear commerce, and apparent Israeli consideration of military action against Pakistan. The United States itself had not discussed "preemption plans." Van Doren also reviewed China's ambivalence: on the one hand, he did not believe they were doing anything to "help" with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, but on the other hand, Beijing was advising the United States to help Pakistan against the "Soviet peril" and refrain from punitive action: "cutting off your nose to spite your face." When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December the Carter administration would decide that Beijing's advice was correct. In the light of the invasion, Pakistan looked more like an ally than a wayward client and the administration approved an indefinite waiver of Symington amendment sanctions so long as Pakistan did not actually test a nuclear weapon. (Note 12)

Document 7: "Secretary's Talking Points: U.S.-China Relations," June 1981, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA release

The Reagan administration intensified cooperation with Pakistan against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and, like its predecessor, gave a pass on suspect nuclear activities so that it could funnel support for Afghan rebels through Pakistan. Yet, it also sustained some quiet and not very successful attempts to tighten up controls of third party exports to slow down Pakistan's nuclear progress. In keeping with this, the Reagan administration sought to discourage Chinese nuclear sharing with Pakistan. When Secretary of State Alexander Haig met with Deng Xiaoping and other top officials in June 1981, one item on his agenda was nuclear proliferation. While the briefing paper does not directly mention Chinese aid to Pakistan in that connection, it does specify concerns about China's exports to Argentina and South Africa of unsafeguarded uranium and heavy water. "These and similar exports elsewhere could contribute to the spread of nuclear explosives, undermining regional stability." Then the paper mentioned the political damage that a Pakistani nuclear test could cause. That may have been a veiled way of cautioning the Chinese not to assist Pakistan's nuclear program.

Document 8: U.S. embassy China cable 17090 to State Department, "Arms Control and Disarmament," 17 December 1982, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA release

By late 1982, and probably earlier, the Reagan administration had asked Chinese diplomats if Beijing was aiding Pakistan's nuclear program but it was not getting any answers. Haig's successor, George Shultz, was gearing up for a trip to Beijing and nuclear proliferation was on his agenda for the discussion. This cable, prepared for briefing Shultz, shows that concern about unsafeguarded exports of uranium and heavy water persisted even though the Chinese were privately arguing that they had not, and would not, "assist any country in developing nuclear weapons." According to Ambassador Arthur Hummel, Chinese officials were unresponsive to U.S. pleas for "adequate safeguard" or other specific cooperation on nuclear exports. Moreover, "The Chinese have also refused to give us an unequivocal answer that they are not assisting Pakistan's reported efforts to manufacture a nuclear explosive device."

Document 9: U.S. embassy China cable 17168 to State Department, "U.S.-PRC Nuclear Cooperation -- Or the Lack of It," 18 December 1982, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA Release

A cable sent by Hummel the next day gave some of the broad context for U.S. concerns about China's policy on nuclear proliferation. On the one hand, the Embassy was aware that Chinese economic development plans required huge inputs of electrical energy and that Beijing was banking on nuclear power to make development possible. In this connection, the Embassy observed that there were billions of dollars in possible U.S. contracts for the Chinese reactor market, for which U.S. companies like Westinghouse were competing. On the other hand, the Chinese were themselves getting involved in the nuclear export business as a way to earn needed foreign currencies that could underwrite imports. As indicated earlier, the U.S. government suspected Chinese nuclear sales to Argentina and South Africa and held "suspicions" that Beijing was providing "weapons-related know-how" to Pakistan. To get control of this problem as well as meet the U.S.'s own nuclear export goals, the Embassy recommended greater nuclear cooperation: "a U.S. nuclear policy … that will encourage China to keep in close touch with us on nuclear issues, through channels established by cooperation and understanding." This was part of the thinking that led to the eventual U.S.-China negotiations on nuclear cooperation that was formalized by a 1985 agreement. To ensure that Beijing's and Washington's thinking on nuclear proliferation was compatible, this was a major subject of discussion in the negotiations on nuclear cooperation that began in July 1983.

Document 10: State Department cable 348835 to U.S. Embassy Pakistan,
"Newsweek Article on Chinese Nuclear Cooperation with Pakistan," 18 December 1982, Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA Release

Just as Hummel was signing off on cables indicating doubts about China's assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons project, Newsweek was running a story highlighting the problem. Pakistani authorities denied the story, which included a reference to an alleged theft by a Pakistani scientist of "information on uranium enrichment technology from a nuclear installation in the Netherlands." It is now well known that the Pakistani scientist was none other than Abdul Qadeer Khan. (Note 13)

Document 11: U.S. State Department, "The Pakistani Nuclear Program," 22 June 1983, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release (Note 14)

As if someone at high levels needed convincing about Pakistan's nuclear activities, six months later a State Department briefing paper opened with this emphatic language: "There is unambiguous evidence that Pakistan is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons development program." After detailing the elements of the weapons program, the report expressed confidence that China had played a significant role in Pakistan's effort to build a bomb. While Pakistan had far to go before it possessed nuclear weapons, China had provided assistance with the production of fissile materials and possibly in "nuclear device design."

Document 12: Memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Paul Wolfowitz to Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, "The Secretary's Meeting with Premier Zhao - Nuclear Cooperation," 10 January 1984, with attachments, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA release

In January 1984, Beijing and Washington tried to put the Pakistan problem behind them. As a sign that it was paying more attention to nuclear proliferation concerns, that month China joined the IAEA. In addition, Premier Zhao Ziyang traveled to Washington for talks touching upon nuclear proliferation and the proposed U.S.-China nuclear cooperation agreement. Because Beijing sought access to U.S. reactor technology and Washington wanted to expedite sales as well as receive assurances that China would not facilitate weapons proliferation, the Chinese agreed to make a public statement that spoke to U.S. concerns. As Wolfowitz observed, the statement was designed to "resolve the concern which arose from past Chinese assistance to Pakistan." The next problem was to ensure that an agreement was consistent with the Atomic Energy Act which insisted that Washington have "consent rights" concerning the disposition of nuclear materials.

Document 13: U.S. Embassy China cable 00644 to State Department, "Premier Zhao's Statement on Non-Proliferation Published in Beijing," 12 January 1984, Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA Release

As promised, during the White House banquet premier Zhao's toast included a statement that "we do not engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, or do we help other countries develop nuclear weapons." The embassy gave a positive spin to Zhao's statement, suggesting that the "Premier's statement that China will [emphasis added] neither engage in nuclear proliferation nor assist any other nation to obtain nuclear weapons" was an important step forward from previous "less-definite" language. But as the marginal comment indicated, Zhao's statement did not cover future activities. Apparently, however, when U.S. officials made an attempt to get private clarification of this point, the Chinese agreed that it did apply to the future. The Reagan administration, however, never got such a statement in writing. (Note 15)

Document 14: U.S. Embassy India cable 14048 to State Department, "News Reports of Pakistan Nuclear Capabilities," 22 June 1984, Unclassified
Source: State Department FOIA release

As this cable indicates, Zhao's declaration hardly reduced skepticism of Bejing's nuclear policies and influential members of Congress kept allegations of Chinese-Pakistan nuclear cooperation in the news. Moreover, the Reagan administration wanted assurances that Beijing and Washington meant the same thing by "assist." Clarification of that and related issues made it possible for the two parties to wrap up the negotiation of the nuclear cooperation agreement. But Congressional reservations would have a significant impact on the prospects for U.S.-China nuclear cooperation. The 1985 agreement included language prohibiting the diversion to military uses of material produced by U.S.-supplied reactors, but there was no broader policy commitment on nuclear proliferation. That was exactly what Congress wanted and the joint approval resolution on the agreement made implementation dependent on presidential certification. Before any reactors could be sold, China would have to provide information on its nuclear nonproliferation policies confirming that it was doing nothing "violation of section 129 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, which requires termination of US nuclear exports to countries that help non-nuclear weapons states acquire nuclear weapons capabilities." No president, however, was able to certify that Chinese policies were compatible with the Atomic Energy Act until 1997. (Note 16)

Document 15: U.S. Embassy China cable 24244 to State Department, "Pakistan Foreign Minister Visits PRC: Nuclear Cooperation and Afghanistan," 29 September 1986, Confidential, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release

That the Chinese were sensitive to Congressional criticism of their nuclear policy is evident in this discussion of the 1986 signing of a China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation agreement. Thus, the Chinese saw the agreement as important to "underline the peaceful nature of Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation", to dispel "irresponsible rumors," and provide an occasion for reiterating the PRC's non-proliferation policy. At the same time, however, Beijing remained publicly critical of the NPT because it was "discriminatory" against non-nuclear states. In the meantime, Congress tried to find ways to express concerns about Pakistan's nuclear status without jeopardizing U.S. Afghanistan policy. The result was the Pressler amendment (1985), a far less stringent version of the Symington amendment. Under Pressler, economic aid and government military sales would continue as long as the President could certify that Pakistan had not assembled a nuclear device. (Note 17)

Document 16: U.S. State Department Briefing Papers, "The President's Meeting with President Yang Shangkun," 8 February 1989, Secret
Source: State Department FOIA release

Lingering suspicions over the degree of China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation encouraged the State Department's China Desk to raise the problem in material prepared for President George H.W. Bush's visit to China, where he would meet China's president, Yang Shangkun, among other senior officials. Yang, an influential military man (who would soon help orchestrate the crackdown at Tiananmen Square) played an important role in military sales policy. (Note 18) For the State Department, a discussion with Yang provided an opportunity to emphasize the U.S. interest in the military dimension of U.S.-China relations but also to convey "concerns over the global dangers of nuclear, missile, and chemical weapons proliferation." By then Washington was also worried about Chinese missile sales, for example, to Saudi Arabia, and working to influence Beijing to comply with the nascent Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). With respect to Pakistan, "our concern focuses on reports over a number of years of Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program." Whether or how Bush or his Secretary of State dealt with those issues in his talks with Yang is yet to be disclosed.

Document 17: U.S. Embassy China Cable 14868 to State Department, "Ranking MFA Official on PRC Nuclear Matters: No Proliferation or Subs for Pakistan; Zip for Pyongyang," 30 May 1989, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release

If Bush or Secretary of State Baker raised questions about China's stance on nuclear proliferation, they may have rankled Foreign Ministry officials. At a meeting held days before the Tiananmen Square events, an unidentified Chinese diplomat denied the rumors that China had helped Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and observed that since Beijing's accession to the IAEA, any country with which China was engaging in nuclear cooperation had to accept safeguards on fuels and technology. He also denied another rumor--Chinese cooperation with Pakistan on nuclear submarine technology--this was most unlikely, he claimed, because the "PRC is certainly the most backward in those technologies." (Note 19) The diplomat restated the Zhao declaration adding that "one could even say that China opposes nuclear proliferation," despite the PRC's opposition to the NPT.

Document 18: U.S. Department of State, Office of Non-Proliferation and Export Technology, "U.S. Interaction with the PRC Concerning the PRC's Nuclear Relationship with Pakistan," 28 November 1989, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release

This heavily excised paper provides some background on the negotiation of the nuclear cooperation agreement although the material relating to its implementation and any specifics on Pakistan is withheld. Whatever this paper may have concluded, the Bush administration would determine the following year that it could not certify that Pakistan was in compliance with Pressler amendment requirements. In the light of Pakistani decisions to assemble several nuclear cores and an intelligence establishment consensus that this had indeed happened, President Bush withheld the necessary certification, thus triggering a suspension of military and economic aid. Facilitating this decision was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, which seemingly reduced Pakistan's strategic importance. This action produced an angry reaction in Pakistan where authorities continued the drive toward a nuclear capability. (Note 20)

Document 19: U.S. Embassy China Cable 1884, "Proliferation Issues: The View from Beijing Looks Grim," 16 April 1991, Confidential, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release

In this update, the Embassy summarized China's official position on nuclear proliferation and nuclear exports including Beijing's routine demurrals that it had given any assistance to Pakistan's weapons program or that it was anything less than aboveboard in applying IAAEA safeguards on nuclear projects with Pakistan and Algeria. (Note 21) While the Chinese professed concern about a South Asian nuclear arms race, they argued that Pakistan's nuclear program was basically "defensive" and a "check" against Indian "hegemonism" in the region, which China also opposed. Beijing also rejected New Delhi's arguments that it was the PRC nuclear arsenal that had motivated the Indian program. The Chinese were not about to put their nuclear arsenal on the table and believed that only the superpowers--the United States and the (soon to be former) Soviet Union--could broker a deal. Thus, Beijing was "unresponsive to our attempts to engage them on South Asian nuclear proliferation."

Document 20: Department of State cable 09394 to U.S. Embassy China, "China's Nuclear Reactor Deal with Pakistan; Chinese Steps Toward Joining NPT," 10 January 1992, Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA release

The news that a major nuclear export from China to Pakistan--a 388 megawatt nuclear power plant--was in the works produced concerns that the Chinese safeguards were not tough enough to prevent diversion of nuclear resources to the Pakistani weapons program. Thus, the Department instructed Embassy officials to express regret that the Chinese were not treating "full-scope safeguards"--ensuring non-diversion of resources from the Pakistani nuclear power program to the non-safeguarded weapons program--as a condition for the sale. Such safeguards had become a standard for the Nuclear Suppliers Group which tried to provide international regulation for nuclear exports. On a more positive note, the Department asked the Embassy to preface those concerns by expressing satisfaction that China's National Peoples Congress had made a decision that China would adhere to the NPT, which became official in March 1992. With this move, China was starting to join the world in a critically important area although Beijing's adherence to new standards of nonproliferation policy would not occur overnight.

Document 21: U.S. Embassy China cable 01109 to State Department, "China's Nuclear Deal with Pakistan -- Demarche Delivered," 14 January 1992, Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA release

Several days later, an Embassy representative presented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the demarche on the reactor deal with Pakistan. Wu Chengjiang, the Foreign Ministry expert on nuclear proliferation matters, observed that Beijing would apply IAEA safeguards to the reactor sale and that the NPT did not require full-scope safeguards. Further, Wu argued, Beijing needed to make the sale, which would benefit Pakistan's economic development. The embassy official nevertheless maintained that full-scope safeguards were necessary for reactor sales to Pakistan because of the "proliferation concern." Washington would continue to press Beijing on this issue.

Document 22: U.S. Embassy China cable 02139 to State Department, "Recent Nuclear Developments in China," 24 January 1992 [incomplete document], Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA release

Other countries took a parallel position to Washington's on the reactor sale to Pakistan; paragraph 5 of the cable reports on a recent Chinese discussion with a German company of the possible sale of cooling equipment for the Pakistan reactor. The Germans would not quote a price and informed the Chinese that the West German government would not provide an export license without adequate safeguards. The German businessmen agreed to quote a price, however, when the Chinese representative said that he wanted to get the same item for a Chinese reactor to be built later in the decade. That some Chinese officials recognized they had been playing outside of the nonproliferation rules is evident in the reported reaction to a French demarche about Chinese nuclear activities in Algeria: "We got caught this time in Algeria, but this will not happen again"--a double entendre that did not reassure the French.

Document 23: U.S. Embassy China cable 025699, "ACDA Director Lehman's Beijing Consultations: Non-CWC Topics," 19 August 1992, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA release

The Bush administration saw 1992 as a year of progress in cooperation with China on nuclear proliferation and regional security issues. A visit to China by ACDA director Ronald Lehman would involve more talk on full-scope safeguards, but also expressions of appreciation for Beijing's decision to join the NPT, its helpfulness on the festering North Korean nuclear issue, and the decision to participate in talks on South Asia. Nevertheless, Lehman reported that Washington was "still concerned about reports of Chinese involvement in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program." Plainly, that was an issue that time had not settled.

Document 24: U.S. Embassy China cable 037741, "Chinese Views on NPT Extension," 25 November 1992, Confidential
Source: State Department FOIA Release

Not long after Beijing signed the NPT, the problem of treaty extension was on the international agenda, with plans for a 1995 conference under way. In November the Chinese hosted a conference on arms control where relatively frank Chinese assessments of the NPT shed some light on older internal debates, motivations for signing the treaty, and reactions to U.S. pressure on the China-Pakistan nuclear connection. Unfortunately, this cable was transmitted in somewhat garbled form (see paragraph 6, first sentence), but the discussion in that paragraph suggests why some Chinese officials may have thought it legitimate for Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons. Some of the Chinese argued that the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff had produced "a de facto political stability that prevented direct conflict." If that was good enough for Moscow and Washington should not "other rival states", such as India and Pakistan, have the "same chance to prevent conflict." This was a minority view at the conference but it may have been close to the thinking of those elements in the government that had supported nuclear assistance to Pakistan.

Document 25: U.S. State Department Briefing Paper, "China," circa December 1992, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA Release

China policy would be a significant issue for the incoming Clinton administration which, like its predecessors, would have to balance nuclear proliferation concerns with trade, human rights, missile proliferation, and other issues. This briefing paper, prepared for incoming Secretary of State Warren Christopher, provides an overview of China's evolving approach to nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation. China's uneven commitment to nuclear nonproliferation was plainly troubling, as evidenced by the discussion of Beijing's aid to Algerian and Iranian nuclear programs. The China-Pakistan nuclear relationship remained a top concern; not only the problem of full-scope safeguards on reactor sales, but also "continuing activities with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program." The briefing paper included recommendations on "tools", "starting minimally and then increasing in severity," that could be used to ensure Chinese compliance with "minimum standards" of nonproliferation policy. The recommendations are heavily excised in this version and it is obscure how the Clinton administration conducted itself in the behind-the-scenes diplomacy of nuclear nonproliferation policy. Nevertheless, as the following documents suggests, by 1997 the administration was confident that the problem of Chinese cooperation with Pakistan's nuclear weapons activity had been resolved.

Document 26: "Classified Report to Congress on the Non-Proliferation and Practices of the People's Republic of China," 1997, Secret, excised copy
Source: State Department FOIA Release

Twelve years after the U.S. and China signed the nuclear cooperation agreement, a U.S. president certified that Beijing's nuclear policies complied with Congressional nonproliferation requirements. Pressure from the U.S. nuclear energy complex was an important element in the decision but the Clinton administration argued that changes in Chinese conduct justified the finding. An important section in this heavily excised report (only one and a half secret paragraphs were declassified) was a discussion of the China-Pakistan relationship. While the Chinese would never publicly declare that they had aided Pakistan, new charges of illicit sales--of ring magnets and a special industrial furnace--were surfacing, (Note 22) and further U.S. demarches produced a May 1996 public declaration that China would not assist unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, intelligence intercepts unwisely published by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz suggest that only months after that declaration the Chinese, through the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, were still making deals with the Pakistanis although it remains unclear whether the transactions were completed. (Note 23) Whether the White House used this discovery to stimulate stronger nonproliferation commitments from the Chinese is unclear. In any event, the Clinton administration soon become that Chinese policies had changed for the better and the following year reported so to Congress. According to the 1997 certification, "we have no direct evidence that China has transferred equipment or material to Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear program since that time, and we have no basis for concluding that China is not honoring its pledge." Although some Republican critics would argue that China remained in defiance of the NPT, the Clinton White House rested its case; the Republicans could not overturn the certification. Thus, the huge Chinese market for U.S. nuclear reactor technology was officially open. (Note 24)

President Clinton's decision did not mean that the China-Pakistan nuclear issue had simply gone away. Months later, the Christian Science Monitor reported that U.S. intelligence had picked up signs that Chinese companies were trying to sell equipment for Iran's and Pakistan's nuclear programs. Apparently, the U.S. government reported the information to Beijing, which took steps to halt the transactions. (Note 25) Yet the certification of Beijing's nonproliferation policy by no means dispelled the nuclear problem in U.S.-China relations. During 1998, accusations of Chinese espionage would fill front pages as would a flap over the U.S. satellite technology to China. In more recent years, DCI Tenet's semi-annual unclassified reports to Congress on weapons of mass destruction proliferation show continuing wariness about the China. (Note 26)

That China's aid to Pakistan had the most negative consequences became evident in May 1998, when both India and Pakistan held nuclear weapons tests and more recently with more and more disclosures on Pakistan's role as a super-proliferator. China expressed "deep regret" over the former and the Foreign Ministry is now investigating the latter. To what degree Beijing will disclose the background of its nuclear relationship with Pakistan remains to be seen.


*The FOIA requests and appeals that made this collection possible were supported by the W. Alton Jones Foundation, whose untimely and regrettable disbanding created a significant void in support for research on nuclear nonproliferation policy.

1. See "Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to China," Washington Post, 15 February 2004.

2. For a summary of the charges, see Ming Zhang, China's Changing Nuclear Posture: Reactions to the South Asian Nuclear Tests (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), p. 7, and Monterey Institute of International Studies, "China's Nuclear Exports and Assistance to Pakistan," at <http://cns.miis.edu/research/india/china/npakpos.htm>.

3. Robert S. Sutter, China's Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Policies: Implications for the United States (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 1988), pp. 22, 27-28.

4. Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies (Baltimore/Washington,D.C: Johns Hopkins University Press/Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001), pp. 172 and 224 (for "pillars" of Pakistan diplomacy).

5. Kux, The United States and Pakistan, pp. 332-333.

6. Bill Gertz, Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security (Washington, DC : Regnery Pub., 1999), pp. 206-207.

7. "Come Clean," South China Morning Post, 20 February 2004. For background on the Nuclear Suppliers Group, see <http://fas.org/nuke/control/nsg> and <http://www.nuclearsuppliersgroup.org>.

8. The Johnson administration first learned of this understanding in late 1964 but it is unclear whether U.S. intelligence ever found out what it was about. See U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXV, South Asia (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2000), p. 167.

9. For developments in 1965, see Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War on the Periphery: the United States, China, and Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 304-336, and Kux, The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000, pp. 153-168. For the Chinese signaling over Vietnam, see Chen Jian, Mao's China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 217.

10. For U.S.-Pakistan relations during the Nixon years, see F. S. Aijazzudin, ed., The White House and Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969-1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

11. For China as a military supplier and the Pakistani nuclear decision in 1974, see Kux, The United States and Pakistan, p. 223; Leonard Spector, Nuclear Proliferation Today (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), pp. 80 and 212.

12. Ibid, pp. 85-86; Kux, The United States and Pakistan, p. 239.

13. See "A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation," New York Times, 12 February 2004.

14. This document appeared in a National Security Archive briefing book edited by South Asia/Near East specialist Joyce Battle. See "India and Pakistan--On the Nuclear Threshold," at <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB6/index.html>

15. Spector, Nuclear Proliferation Today, p. 324.

16. For details on the nuclear cooperation agreement and implementation issues, see <http://www.nti.org/db/china/ncaorg.htm>, on the Nuclear Threat Initiative web site.

17. Kux, The United States and Pakistan, pp. 275-278.

18. For background on Yang, see "Yang Shangkun, a President Who Would be King, Dies," Reuters, 14 September 1998.

19. Readers can decide for themselves how "backward" the Chinese nuclear submarine program was by consulting China's Strategic Seapower: The Politics of Force Modernization in the Nuclear War, by John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), especially pp. 176-208.

20. Kux, The United States and Pakistan, pp. 309-311.

21. For the Algeria-China nuclear connection, see David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, "Algeria: Big Deal in the Desert?" The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 57 (May-June 2001): 45-52.

22. Zhang, China's Changing Nuclear Posture, p. 7.

23. Gertz, Betrayal, pp. 266-267.

24. "U.S. Says China Isn't Helping Others Build Bombs," New York Times, 11 December 1997. For former Rep. Lee Hamilton's case for the certification and discussion of the criticisms, see "We Mustn't Move the Bar on China Now," Washington Post, 12 November 1997.

25. "China Foils the Spread of Nukes … Probably," Christian Science Monitor, 13 March 1998.

26 . The whole series of CIA Non-Proliferation Center semi-annual (since 1999) "Unclassified Reports to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions," can be found at <http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/wmd.htm>. Each report has a separate section on China as a nuclear supplier. See also Congressional Research Service, "China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues," 8 August 2003, at <http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/crs/RL31555.pdf>.

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