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Friday, September 15, 2006

U.S. criticizes China arms sales

Top U.S. officials are criticizing what they call China's indiscriminate sale of weapons to rogue countries, suggesting that Beijing's shortsighted policies has had made the world more dangerous.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security, urged China to re-evaluate its relationship with Iran and North Korea, two countries with which the United States is locked in tense nuclear standoffs.

"China's actions seem to us dangerously shortsighted," Rodman told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advisory panel created by Congress. "China's proliferation behavior, past and present, can come back to haunt it, even placing its own political interests in jeopardy."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called the criticism "groundless and irresponsible," the official Xinhua News Agency said Friday. No other details were given.

Beijing has said that it opposes the spread of weapons technology and materials, and that it forbids Chinese companies from transferring such material.

The United States, Rodman said Thursday, sees in China "a general willingness to transfer a wide variety of technologies to customers around the world."

He mentioned Iran, Sudan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela and even linked China to North Korea's test launches in July of seven missiles and to Hezbollah's use of Chinese-designed cruise missiles against an Israeli naval vessel, also in July.

Rodman said the United States worries that Chinese companies have helped Iran as it tries to establish a self-sufficient ballistic missile production program. China wants to build relations with Iran, Rodman said, to secure access to oil and gas and, potentially, to find ways to control China's restive Muslim populations.

China says it opposes the spread of weapons technology and materials, and it forbids Chinese companies from transferring such material. Rodman said Beijing has strengthened its nonproliferation efforts by promoting export control laws and its oversight of those laws.

Paula DeSutter, the State Department's lead official for verifying nonproliferation compliance, said, however, that despite repeated assurances from Beijing, the United States is "deeply concerned about the Chinese government's commitment toward its nonproliferation obligations."

"Quite simply, we believe that the Chinese government should do more to consistently enforce its nonproliferation regulations," DeSutter said.

While China told the United States in recent years that it would not help any country develop ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons, and it would publish missile export controls, Chinese companies continued to transfer missile-related technology to Iran and North Korea, DeSutter said.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that "China must come to the unambiguous conclusion that preventing the nuclearization of Iran and North Korea far outweighs Beijing's other interests in those two countries — both political and economic."

The United States and its allies are confronting Iran over a nuclear program they say is meant to build bombs. Iran says the program is for civilian power generation.

The United States also is at an impasse in its efforts to restart six-nation discussions aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. The North has boycotted the talks since November.

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