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China, Pakistan,
and the Bomb:
The Declassified File on
Excerpt from Document 18: "U.S. Interaction U.S. Policy, 1977-1997
with the PRC Concerning the PRC's Nuclear
Relationship with Pakistan," 28 November 1989 National Security Archive
Electronic Briefing Book No.
Read the press release 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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 2 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 3 of 21
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:

z U.S. unease over secret China-Pakistan security and military
cooperation during the late 1960s

z Chinese assistance to Pakistani nuclear-weapons related projects in

z the refusal by Chinese diplomats in 1982 to give an "unequivocal
answer" to queries about nuclear weapons aid to Pakistan

z 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

z the George H. W. Bush administration's concern in 1989 over
"reports of Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons

z denials by Chinese diplomats that same year of reports of Chinese
nuclear aid to Pakistan 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 4 of 21
z U.S. pressure on China in 1992 to impose full-scope safeguards on
the sale of a nuclear reactor to Pakistan because of proliferation

z more disquiet (late 1992) over China's "continuing activities with
Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs"

z 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.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Read the Documents
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 5 of 21
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
Document 3: " Proposed Cable to Tehran on Pakistani
Nuclear Processing," 12 May 1976, Secret
Source: National Archives, Records of the State 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 6 of 21
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,
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 7 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 8 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 9 of 21
veiled way of cautioning the Chinese not to assist Pakistan's nuclear
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 10 of 21
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
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 11 of 21
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,
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 12 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 13 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 14 of 21
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
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 15 of 21
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
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 16 of 21
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
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, 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 17 of 21
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
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) 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 18 of 21
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 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 19 of 21
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
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
<> and
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. 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 20 of 21
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

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

15. Spector, Nuclear Proliferation Today, p. 324.
16. For details on the nuclear cooperation agreement and implementation
issues, see <>, 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. 10/14/2008
China, Pakistan, and the Bomb Page 21 of 21
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
<>. 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

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