China Grumbles Over US Sanctions on Firms Selling Weapons Know-How to Iran

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Washington's decision to impose sanctions on Chinese companies for selling weapons technology to Iran will not help bilateral non-proliferation cooperation, according to Beijing's foreign ministry.

The State Department has announced that four Chinese entities and a North Korean company would be subject to sanctions under the Iran Nonproliferation Act for selling weapons or weapons-related technology to Tehran.

Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told a press briefing that China opposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and had taken steps to enhance law enforcement in that area. The government would act against any individual or company found to have been involved in illegal export activity, she said.

But the CIA says that, despite some improvements undertaken by China, some Chinese companies continued to be involved in proliferation activity.

One of the four Chinese entities, an individual named Q.C. Chen, has been under U.S. sanctions for various proliferation violations for years. In 1997, he was slapped with sanctions under different legislation for helping Iran's chemical weapons (CW) program by selling CW precursor chemicals, equipment and technology.

Two of the other companies cited by the State Department have also previously been penalized for transferring controlled items to Tehran.

And one of the newly identified offenders, a firm called the Liaoning Jiayi Metals and Minerals Company, is reported to be a Chinese state-run company.

"There are unrepentant proliferators out there, and it's going to require a concerted, sustained effort to fight them," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We're certainly not going to stand by idly while weapons proliferation programs are assisted."

Ereli said the U.S. would increase the pressure on violators through "sustained and high-level engagement" with Beijing.

The sanctions, which are valid for two years, prevent entities in the U.S. from doing any business with the targeted firms.

In a report to recently handed to Congress, the CIA said the Chinese government had in recent years improved its nonproliferation posture by committing itself to multilateral regimes and strengthening oversight mechanisms.

But at the same time, it said, "the proliferation behavior of Chinese companies remains of great concern."

During the period covered by the report -- July to December 2003 -- there was evidence that Chinese firms also provided dual-use CW-related equipment and know-how to Iran, the CIA said.

Chinese entities also continued to work with Iran on ballistic missile-related projects, thus helping Iran to move toward its goal of becoming self-sufficient in ballistic missile production.

Chinese firms had also provided dual-use missile-related items and raw materials to the Islamic Republic, and were a primary supplier of advanced conventional weapons as well.

In testimony before Congress last June, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said Iran had received help from companies in China, as well as Russia and North Korea, to develop and expand its ballistic missile program.

Iran was acquiring the means to produce ever more sophisticated and longer-range missiles, including missiles capable of delivering payloads to Western Europe or the U.S., Bolton warned.

The U.S. government also suspects that Iran has ambitions to be a nuclear weapons power, although Tehran insists that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

After Iran agreed in a deal with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its uranium enrichment program temporarily, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency early this week decided not to refer it to the Security Council, where it could have faced sanctions.

In a report released Thursday, an expert panel recommending United Nations reform said the international community needed to do more to reduce WMD threats.

Preventing the proliferation of such weapons must be an "urgent priority" for global security, the high-level panel said.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow