Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., director of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., served in senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department in 1983-87, with responsibilities for U.S. nuclear forces and arms control policy.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer faces a roughly equal adversary around the world. But the economic boom in China and that country's increasing involvement in regions remote from its own borders should give Americans pause. And nowhere is that reach more apparent than the Middle East, where an active Chinese policy of exporting weapons and military-related goods and know-how to some eight countries has the potential to play a very disruptive role.


The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to have a limitless appetite for military hardware and no end of targets for its lethal use: international shipping in the Persian Gulf, its neighbors, Israel, and ultimately, the United States.

Evidence continues to mount suggesting that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is determined to satisfy every Iranian military demand, including that for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). A top secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysis in October 19961 concluded that the Chinese government had sold a wide range of equipment to Iran in 1996: missile technology and components for an advanced radar system; 400 metric tons of chemicals used in producing nerve agents and riot control gas; gyroscopes, accelerometers and test equipment used to build and test missile guidance components; and advanced radar-guided C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles.

Missiles are a particular worry. An earlier leaked CIA report cited evidence that Peking is engaged in elaborate and multifaceted collaboration with Iran to develop an indigenous capability to produce medium-range ballistic missiles.2 During the first seven months of 1996, the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral Scott Redd held three news conferences to denounce Chinese cruise-missile sales to Iran.3 And in November 1996, the Iranian Navy fired a Chinese-made, radar-guided C-802 missile from one of the ten Houdong fast patrol boats Tehran purchased from the PRC. In June 1997, Iranian F-4 fighter jets test-fired two C-801 air-to-surface cruise missiles-a development that Secretary of Defense William Cohen characterized as indicating an Iranian desire "to be able to intimidate its neighbors and interrupt commerce in the Gulf."4

It was only in early June 1997, however, that the State Department formally notified Congress that China had sold cruise missiles to Iran, "enhancing that country's ability to disrupt Persian Gulf shipping and challenge U.S. forces in the region."5 Such transfers would violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary supplier arrangement, and would warrant U.S. sanctions under 1990, 1991, and 1994 amendments to the Arms Export Control Act. No such action has been taken, however, as of this writing.

Nuclear energy is also on Iran's shopping list from China. In 1995, Tehran signed an agreement to purchase two 300-megawatt pressurized water reactors as well as associated Chinese nuclear know-how.6 The reactors, which should become operational in seven to nine years, will ostensibly be used for peaceful purposes and remain subject to international inspection under the likely terms of the agreement. So their transfer would not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Kenneth Timmerman, a leading observer of Iran's military build-up, notes however, that a 1991 Iranian purchase of a 27-megawatt research reactor from China went unreported to the International Atomic Energy Agency.7 This development further underscores the contempt that nuclear aspirants like Iran have for the NPT. Other facts also suggest Iran's true intention for this reactor (and other nuclear power plants it is buying from Russia) is not peaceable; more likely, it seeks them as a means to develop weapons-grade fissile materials. First, Iran's vast oil and natural gas resources make it seem unlikely that Tehran intends to use these reactors for energy purposes. Second, Chinese technicians have provided Iran with advice on uranium mining and discussed supplying technology that would enable Iran to produce its own nuclear reactor fuel-technology that includes facilities for purifying uranium and converting it into uranium hexaflouride, a key ingredient in nuclear bomb-making.8

In the face of all these distressing Chinese-Iranian transactions, the only action the Clinton administration could bring itself to take occurred on May 23, 1997, when it imposed sanctions on eight Chinese government-run companies that it accused of exporting chemical-weapons materials to Iran. Under the terms of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, these corporations are now prohibited from doing business in the U.S. or with American firms.9 Even this modest step was taken only when the administration needed to demonstrate concern about China's proliferation in the context of a congressional debate over the renewal of most favored nation status for China. With that renewal now assured for another year, it remains to be seen if further punitive measures will be taken as Peking continues to threaten U.S. interests in this way.

If the U.S. government is not doing enough to look out for its interests, the Israeli government is doing even less to protect itself. Although Israel is immediately at risk from Chinese proliferation activities with Iran, some of the deadly technology reaching Tehran via China-incredibly-derives from Israeli technology. Richard Fisher of the Heritage Foundation cites several ominous examples:

China [has] revealed that it is now the fourth country, after Russia, Israel and South Africa, to produce a helmet-sighted air-to-air missile. The helmet sight is a copy of the Russian model, but the missile it will guide is derived from the Israeli Python 3. This system will equip China's new F-811 M fighters, which reportedly will be part of a new $4.5 billion Iranian purchase of Chinese weapons. Iranian pilots could become competent with helmet-sighted missiles well before U.S. pilots get theirs in 2003 or 2004-if they are lucky. This will only better prepare Iran's pilots for the day they receive their Lavi-derived J-10 fighters.10

To be sure, China has established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the evidence suggests it did so more out of a desire for access to Israel's advanced, militarily-relevant technology than in the interest of promoting the well-being and security of the Jewish state. No less than Americans, Israelis must understand the mortal peril that is arising as advanced Chinese and Chinese-acquired technology makes its way into the hands of rogue states like Iran.


Pakistan, while not located in the Middle East, has a strategic relationship with Iran and other rogue states in the region. Its immediate interest appears to be in acquiring weapons of mass destruction to deter-and perhaps threaten-India. Pan-Islamist ideology and lucrative trade opportunities, however, help to make Pakistan a willing cut-out for Chinese WMD and other weapons technology transfers to much of the Middle East.

The PRC has supplied Pakistan with thirty M-11 ballistic missiles capable of delivering 1,100 pounds of high explosive chemical, biological or nuclear warheads over a distance of more than 185 miles. After repeated U.S. protests about such transfers and in the wake of sanctions levied in June 1991, "the Chinese promised to adhere to internationally agreed-to guidelines on missile-technology control."11 Nonetheless, the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, a front company of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), continued to provide M-11 components, including gyroscopes, accelerometers and on-board computers for the M-11 missile.12 Worse yet, in late 1995, the U.S. government "concluded that China was not only continuing to sell M-11 missiles to Pakistan, but was also helping the Pakistanis build a factory to manufacture them."13 In addition, PRC technical support has facilitated development of a new ballistic missile at Pakistan's National Defense Complex.14

Further documenting the Pakistan-China connection in early 1996, the CIA determined that the PRC had sold 5,000 ring-magnets (designed for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons) to a nuclear laboratory in Kahuta, Pakistan,15 and Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch reported on PRC transfers of nuclear weapons and missile technology to Pakistan (and Iran).16 Later in 1996, the State Department sent Peking a diplomatic note protesting its sale of a special industrial furnace and high-tech diagnostic equipment (which could be used to assist in the manufacture of nuclear weapons) to "unsafeguarded" nuclear facilities in Pakistan.17 Time magazine now reports that the Pakistanis are working on a nuclear warhead for their M-11s.18

Were Chinese leaders aware of the ring magnet sale and did they approve it? A leaked CIA memo alleged that they did: "In the aftermath of the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation ring-magnet sale to Pakistan and China's May 11 commitment not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities, senior-level approval was probably needed for this most recent assistance."19 The agency is also said to have concluded that PRC officials had hoped to deceive the U.S. about this and future sales by falsifying paperwork identifying their final destination. In contrast, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Einhorn painted an altogether different picture of official Chinese involvement in the ring magnet sale. Indicating that "China's current ability to control exports appears to vary with the type of commodity exported," he told congress in April 1997 that specialized nuclear and missile equipment seem to be closely guarded but dual-use items20 are another story:

These items are not necessarily controlled by centralized or senior-level approval mechanisms. . . . The more we learn about the rudimentary state of Chinese export controls on dual-use items, the more plausible it becomes that this particular transaction [ring magnets to Pakistan] would have been made without high-level government knowledge. And because of that, it didn't trigger Section 825 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act."21

Whichever explanation one chooses-that Peking is complicit in sponsoring proliferation or is inept in curbing it-the result is the same: China's conduct further increases the danger of violence in the Mideast as Chinese-supplied technology trickles down to Pakistan's co-religionists and strategic partners in the Persian Gulf and Levant.


Syria's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (notably chemical and biological arms and ballistic missiles) is especially worrisome, for it remains the last front-line Arab country still formally in a state of war with Israel. These deadly weapons are just minutes away from causing potentially incalculable harm to Israel-a formula for violent instability, if not a virtual invitation to Israeli preemption.

The Chinese government has since the late 1980s been involved in Syria's growing ballistic missile capability. The PRC is believed to have sold Damascus eighty or more M-9 ballistic missiles (which have a range of 600 kilometers and the capability to deliver their payloads to all points within Israel) together with more than thirty launchers. In June 1996, the CIA reportedly discovered a Chinese shipment of military material to Syria containing sensitive guidance equipment for the M-11 missile.22

The PRC has also provided technical support, equipment and manufacturing capabilities for guidance systems and solid rocket motor fuel technology that helps Syria produce its own missiles.23 They were delivered to the Scientific Studies and Research Center, a Syrian government agency overseeing missile development.24 The source of these items appears to have been the same PLA-associated front company that has been aiding Pakistan's proliferation program, the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation.

In addition, U.S. intelligence suspects China of collaborating in the construction of an underground chemical/biological weapons facility outside Damascus.25 As early as 1992, CIA Director Robert Gates announced that Syria "appears to be seeking assistance from China and Western firms for improved [missile] capability with chemical and biological warheads."26 Documents seized in Germany in 1996 suggest that Syria has received sensitive computer equipment that could be used to mix chemical and biological agents. While available evidence does not directly implicate China, its expertise in the area and past technology transfer patterns strongly suggest Chinese involvement.27


It is a matter of record that the Libyan leadership seeks to secure a nuclear "Islamic Bomb" and produce large quantities of other weapons of mass destruction (notably, chemical weapons). Its willingness to use ballistic missiles to inflict terror and pain on adversaries is equally well-established.

Less well known is the fact that China is actively abetting these Libyan ambitions. The PRC-Libyan collaboration dates back at least to 1989 when Qadhdhafi's regime apparently purchased as many as sixty Chinese M-9 ballistic missiles. In addition, Libya (or perhaps Saudi Arabia) bankrolled a $170 million deal that sent Syria its eighty M-9s.28

The PRC's chemical industry minister Gu Xiulian led a delegation in February 1992 that visited Tripoli and signed a bilateral agreement "providing for cooperation in the capacities of trade, economic, cultural and scientific fields between the two countries."29 The two sides signed other agreements to exchange industrial expertise and create joint companies for industrial production in Libya-almost certainly cover operations for collaboration in military-related fields.

Open source materials do not indicate the exact role of China in Libya's ongoing weapons of mass destruction programs-notably, its pursuit of chemical weapons production capabilities-but the long-term cooperation implicit to these bilateral agreements suggests that Peking is helping to make the Libyan threat ever more formidable.


At least four other states in the Middle East are, to varying degrees, also pursuing weapons of mass destruction programs with help from Communist China. While rarely acknowledged publicly, these programs clearly enjoy high priority from their respective governments-whether as deterrents to regional adversaries equipped with their own WMD capabilities or as a means to intimidate and coerce others.

Saudi Arabia: In 1986, the Chinese government sold Saudi Arabia as many as fifty-six CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles and as many as fifteen mobile launchers for these missiles. The CSS-2s have the capacity to deliver chemical or biological-and perhaps nuclear-weapons as far as 3,100 kilometers throughout the Middle East and even to parts of Europe. The sale of such destabilizing weaponry was not discovered until the missiles began to be deployed in the Saudi desert.

As the Saudi CSS-2s begin to reach the end of their useful service life, the kingdom is reportedly engaged in intensive discussions with the PRC concerning the purchase of replacement missiles. Three Chinese delegations have visited Saudi Arabia for this purpose over the past year.30 The urgency the kingdom attaches to this upgrade is apparently a direct result of Iran's effort to buy or build advanced ballistic missiles.

Iraq: The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) apparently brokered a deal whereby Iraq acquired Chinese Silkworm missiles, reportedly with Israeli-derived guidance systems.31 In December 1994, American authorities arrested a U.S.-based import-exporter known as Kim Kyung-Il for "organizing a 1993 illicit shipment of ammonium perchlorate to the Iraqi government from China." [This restricted rocket fuel precursor was] "sourced . . . from the Chinese Chemical Import-Export Corporation in Guangdong [to Iraq] through Zeid Khorma, an Iraqi government purchasing agent in Jordan."32 A month later, Kim pled guilty to the charges.33

It is impossible to determine from the open literature what role, if any, the PRC is currently playing in assisting Saddam Husayn to get around the United Nations-sanctioned regime and build weapons of mass destruction. But there can be little doubt that once that regime is removed-a step that China, among others, has been demanding for some time-Peking will once again seek to do deadly business with Iraq.

Algeria: In February of 1983, the PRC and Algeria signed a secret nuclear cooperation agreement leading to the construction of the Salam nuclear "research" reactor intended for plutonium production.34 Years later, the Chinese press acknowledged that, "China trained Algerian scientists and technicians and provided technology and a complete set of facilities for the reactor."35

This "research" reactor went critical in December 1993 and press reports indicate British intelligence believes-on the basis of the size of the reactor's cooling tower-that its output is not the 15 megawatts declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency but 40 megawatts.36 If true, the reactor would be capable of producing as much as eight kilograms of plutonium per year-sufficient to support a small-scale nuclear weapons acquisition program. Further supporting this suspicion, the Salam reactor is located far from major population centers and is heavily protected by anti-aircraft missiles and a military contingent-facts that do not mesh well with the Algerian contention that the reactor will supply electricity.37

Egypt: According to responsible sources China is "among a number of Asian and European countries that have established ties with Egypt to help it construct 'a number of nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes.'"38 The Algeria and Egyptian reactors fit a larger pattern of serving as a conduit for technology associated with nuclear weapons programs. Indeed, the U.S. government has long been concerned that Chinese nuclear power programs "undermin[e] efforts to stop the spread of nuclear arms."39


The foregoing transactions represent but a fraction of the reported instances of PRC involvement in activities that result in the transfer of dangerous technologies into the hands of the Middle East's most worrisome regimes.40 What is known publicly about these transactions is, moreover, only a small portion of what is known in intelligence circles which, in turn, should further be regarded as but a fraction of the totality of the role Communist China is playing as the arsenal for international roguery. Nonetheless, the picture that emerges is one of an outside state systematically seeding the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction along with the systems needed to deliver them over increasingly long ranges.41

The PRC's arms transfers will greatly intensify, if not precipitate, the next war in the Persian Gulf, the Levant, or North Africa. For example, the mere existence of chemical or biological weapons-to say nothing of nuclear ones-on medium-range ballistic missiles in the hands of people like the mullahs of Iran, Saddam Husayn, Hafiz al-Asad, and Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi could make the costs to Israel of "going second" appear intolerably high. Under such circumstances, even the tiniest provocative spark could be sufficient to set off a conflagration unlikely to remain confined to the Middle East.

The proven Iranian, Syrian, and Pakistani willingness to collaborate with other potentially dangerous states-notably Libya, Algeria and, to varying degrees, Iraq-greatly complicates international efforts to combat proliferation. The Syrian-Iranian strategic partnership, one of the means by which Chinese technology reaches Hafiz al-Asad's regime, is particularly worrisome.

For the People's Republic of China, these transactions may be more than simply a valuable means of generating hard currency, paying for oil imports, and gaining influence. Peking also appears to be encouraging weapons proliferation in the Middle East as part of its campaign to diminish America's presence and influence in Asia. 42 For violent conflict in the Middle East would preoccupy the United States, sapping its resources and tying it down far from Chinese borders.

That the PRC's proliferation activities appear to be part of a larger and more ominous pattern of hostile behavior adds to the urgency of effective countermeasures. The United States must take the lead in forging efforts-multilateral where possible, unilateral where necessary-to resist and curb these perils.


1 Bill Gertz, "China Sold Iran Missile Technology, The Washington Times, Nov. 21, 1996.
2 Barbara Opall, "U.S. Queries China on Iran; Fears Transfer of Missile Technology," Defense News, June 19-25, 1995. The CIA report is titled "China-Iran Missile Technology Cooperation: A Timeline Approach."
3 William Triplett II, "Waiting for Al," The Weekly Standard, Feb. 24, 1997, pp. 22-23.
4 Reuter News Service, June 17, 1997.
5 "China Defends Sales of Conventional Arms to Iran," Reuters North American Wire, June 3, 1997.
6 R. Jeffrey Smith, "China Nuclear Deal with Iran is Feared; US Worried Transfer Could Lead to Arms," The Washington Post, Apr. 17, 1995.
7 Kenneth Timmerman, "Tehran's A-Bomb Program Shows Startling Progress," The Washington Times, May 8, 1995.
8 Ibid.
9 "Clinton's Curveball on China," The Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 1997, p. 1.
10 Richard D. Fisher, Jr., "Unilateral Armament," The National Review, June 2, 1997, p. 61. The Lavi was a fighter aircraft designed by Israel but never put into production.
11 Henry Sokolski, "A Tale of Three Companies," The Weekly Standard, Feb. 24, 1997.
12 The Washington Times, June 22, 1995.
13 Reuters, June 23, 1997. The report goes on: "By last October, the CIA and other agencies agreed on a 'statement of fact' that warned the White House and the State Department of its conclusions, [Time] magazine said. But the Clinton administration, anxious not to endanger relations with China, refused to schedule inter-agency meetings on the report or discuss whether China should be penalized."
14 "Pakistan-Chinese missile technology transfer discussed," Defense News, Aug, 29, 1996.
15 Bill Gertz, "China's Nuclear Transfers Raise New Concerns in US," The Washington Times, Feb. 6, 1996.
16 Testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feb. 22, 1996.
17 A CIA memorandum dated Sept. 14, 1996 indicates that the State Department sent the note on Aug. 30, 1996; The Washington Times, Oct. 9, 1996.
18 Douglas Waller, "The Secret Missile Deal," Time, June 30, 1997.
19 Memo dated Sept. 14, 1996, The Washington Times, Oct. 9, 1996.
20 That is, they have civil as well as military applications.
21 Testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, Washington, D.C., Apr. 10, 1997.
22 The Washington Times, July 23, 1996.
23 "U.S. Warns China on Missile Sales, Human Rights," Middle East Defense News, May 17, 1993.
24 This institution was established in 1973 under a scientific cooperation program with France, which continues to provide it with technical assistance.
25 Mark Yost, "China's deadly trade in the Mideast," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 1996.
26 Arms Control Today, Oct. 1992, pp. 41-43.
27 Yost, "China's deadly trade."
28 Middle East News Agency, May 18, 1989.
29 Xinhua News Agency, Feb. 29, 1992; Great Splaj Radio, Feb. 28, 1992, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, March 10, 1992.
30 Phillip Finnegan, "Saudis Study Missile Buy to Replace Aging Arsenal," Defense News, Mar. 17-23, 1997, p. 40.
31 Time, Aug. 10, 1992.
32 Export Control News, Dec. 30, 1994, p. 14.
33 Ibid., Jan. 31, 1995, pp. 12-13.
34 "China-Algeria Nuclear Surprise," Middle East Defense News, May 13, 1991. Salam means peace in Arabic.
35 The Non-Proliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1994, p. 127.
36 "China Helps Algeria Build First Arab Atom Bomb," The Sunday Times, April 28, 1991; Middle East Defense News, May 13, 1991.
37 Ibid.
38 Ash-Sha'b, June 27, 1995, p. 8, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report, Near East & South Asia, June 28, 1997.
39 Michael R. Gordon, "Russian arms sales to China worry U.S. Re-export of technology to Third World feared," The New York Times, October 18, 1992.
40 The Middle East Data Project, the Non-Proliferation Policy Center, and The Non-Proliferation Review are valuable resources for further data.
41 These include Chinese efforts to: penetrate and influence the Clinton White House and U.S. elections; conduct economic and other forms of espionage in the United States; engage in coercive policies aimed at destroying democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan; pursue predatory trade practices; and achieve an ominous military build-up (in part underwritten by enormous trade surpluses).
42 On that campaign, see Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro, The Coming Conflict With China, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).