The CIA has concluded that China has delivered important components for missile systems to Iran and Pakistan recently.
Senior administration officials said Wednesday that the shipments could violate an international missile accord and could require the United States to impose punitive economic sanctions against China.
The new report comes at a time when U.S. diplomatic relations with China are deeply strained because of disputes over human rights, trade and the recent unofficial visit of Taiwan’s president to the United States.
In the last year, China has delivered dozens, perhaps hundreds, of missile guidance systems and computerized machine tools to Iran, the CIA concluded in a report circulating among policy-makers.
The components could give Tehran the ability to improve the accuracy of North Korean Scud missiles already in its arsenal and enable it to build such missiles on its own.
Just as worrisome, the report adds, is that China, in the last three months, has delivered parts to Pakistan that could be used in M-11 ballistic missiles.
In August 1993, the United States banned sales of certain high-technology goods to China after American intelligence concluded China had sent M-11 missile components to Pakistan in violation of a missile accord.
“We have serious questions about China’s missile-related exports to Pakistan and Iran, and we are in a position where we have to consider the question of sanctions,” said John Holum, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
“There are substantial indications of continued missile-related transactions to both countries. We need clarification from the Chinese of what is under way. But as of now, that has not been possible.”
Relations between the United States and China are at their lowest point since 1989, when the Chinese cracked down on the democracy movement and attacked protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The visit by President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan to the United States earlier this month touched off a campaign of diplomatic retaliation, including the recall of China’s ambassador to Washington, the cancellation of several high-level meetings between American and Chinese officials and the refusal to approve appointment of former Sen. James Sasser, D-Tenn., as the new ambassador to Beijing.
But the Clinton administration is so determined to try to salvage its strategy of embracing - rather than isolating - Beijing that last weekend, it offered to send Peter Tarnoff, undersecretary of state for political affairs, to Beijing to take stock of the relationship. But the Chinese apparently did not respond.
Because China has not shipped complete missiles or missile systems to Iran or Pakistan, the CIA report has generated a debate in the Clinton administration over whether China actually has violated the Missile Technology Control Regime and should be punished with sanctions required under American law.