May 27, 2003
By John J. Tkacik, Jr.
During my career in the
U.S. State Department, I was one of the handwringers when it came
to levying economic sanctions on China, even those mandated by U.S.
law. We old China hands would always warn that "now is not a good
time to antagonize Beijing." Yet that was just to disguise the fact
that we never believed there was a good time to annoy the Chinese.
As a result, whenever the department got around to recommending
economic sanctions against Chinese firms, they were generally of
the harmless, slap-on-the-wrist variety.
Now that has finally changed, ahead of next week's summit between
U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao. On
Friday, one of China's biggest conglomerates, China North
Industries Corp. (Norinco), was hit with an unprecedented two-year
ban on exports to the U. S. That will affect at least $100 million
in goods annually -- and possibly close to half a billion dollars
if U.S. Customs can identify all of Norinco's subsidiaries.
The sanctions followed two stern messages the State Department
sent to Beijing last year, warning Norinco -- China's premier arms
manufacturer -- to stop selling rocket fuel and missile components
to the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the Iranian government
agency in charge of developing and producing
ballistic missiles. But, after years of toothless sanctions, the
Chinese Foreign Ministry apparently believed they had little to
fear and ignored the warnings.
Yet still the State Department hesitated. Out came the old excuses
so common in my day. Last October was said to be a bad time because
President Bush was preparing for a summit with then Chinese
President Jiang Zemin. November was
bad because the U.N. Security Council was about to vote on Iraq.
In January, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, providing a fresh excuse for avoiding any
action that might complicate resolving this issue. In February, all
attention was on Iraq and North Korea. Ditto for March.
But all that temporizing began to change after the U.S.-North
Korea negotiation fiasco in Beijing on April 23. On that day, the
North Koreans announced (in the presence of a Chinese diplomat)
that Pyongyang had "essentially completed the reprocessing
plutonium from spent nuclear fuel rods." A few hours later they
threatened (this time without a Chinese witness) to export nuclear
materials. "What are you going to do about it?" the Pyongyang envoy
demanded of his U.S. counterpart.
After an experience like that, even the State Department lost its
collective patience. President Bush and National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice were in no mood for more North Korean threats, and
almost as exasperated by Beijing's failure to do anything about
them. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
gathered his top advisors and drew up an unprecedented sanctions
regime against a Chinese government-owned corporation.
It is unprecedented because, for the first time, these sanctions
include a blanket ban on a Chinese state-owned corporation
exporting anything to the U.S. And Americans buy quite a bit from
Norinco, at least $100 million a year according to the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency estimates put the figure far higher,
pointing to the more than 4,000 product lines manufactured by
Norinco's vast business empire, from toys and shoes to binoculars
and auto parts. The company's -- now-
banned -- exports to the U.S. reportedly include everything from
Turkestani carpets to aluminum siding. It is also the world's
biggest producer of aluminum heat sinks for computers and, given
the broad language of the ban, computers and other electronic
products which use these components could be affected.
There are so many Norinco subsidiaries in Shenzhen, one U.S.
official said, that even Norinco doesn't know the full impact of
the sanctions. In the end, the total amount affected could be
nearer half a billion dollars a year.
Never before has a Chinese firm, much less a huge one like
Norinco, been subject to a blanket ban on exports to the U.S. After
some of its employees were caught helping smuggle 2,000 fully
automatic AK-47 assault guns to drug dealers in Oakland, California
in 1996, the Clinton administration banned Norinco from selling any
more AK-47s -- but only for two years. Last week's
sanctions are much more serious, designed to inflict pain and
demonstrate that the Bush administration is willing to back its
warnings with actions.
Yet there is little fear in Washington that Beijing will
retaliate, despite an angry statement from the Chinese Foreign
Ministry on Friday, denying Norinco had any contracts with Iran.
First, Beijing has been chronically in the wrong. It has exported
dangerous weapons and technologies to irresponsible regimes, and
the U.S. has warned for years that strong counterproliferation
would come. Moreover, China is seen broadly within the Bush
administration (though not by the State Department) as having
offered relatively little help in dealing with North Korea.
Nor has China been much help in the war on terror where the
much-vaunted "cooperation" with Beijing has been a one-way street.
The U.S. gave China's secret police access to Chinese Muslim
prisoners at Guantanamo; the Federal Bureau of Investigation
trained Chinese police in triaging and analyzing
terrorist archives and financial documentation. But there is no
evidence of any substantive Chinese contribution to the sum total
of counterterrorist intelligence. Typically, State Department
officials insist that China's antiterrorist cooperation has been
"good" but they "can't talk about it." However one senior CIA
officer painted a very different picture, describing China's help
as "close to zero."
This isn't surprising. China's new leaders certainly aren't
committed to helping the U.S.
fight terror. As the influential Chinese foreign affairs journal
Outlook Weekly explained in February, "China cannot be without any
reservations when cooperating with the U.S. in combating terrorism
U.S. is using the fight against terrorism as an opportunity to
pursue its hegemonic strategy, which in turn would harm China's
Nor is there much appreciation for China's role in the Iraq
campaign. Beijing essentially did nothing but complain about
American hegemony and line up with Paris, Berlin and Moscow on most
major issues. Of course, the Chinese leadership played only a bit
part in harassing the American efforts to disarm
Baghdad, preferring instead to let the French take the heat of
America's post- Iraq retribution. This is understandable. China is
loath to antagonize the U.S. too much -- after all, its economic
growth is powered by a trade surplus with America that reached $103
billion last year.
President Bush and Mr. Powell have repeatedly stressed the
administration's desire for a "constructive, cooperative, candid"
relationship with China, and their policies have generally been
consistent with that. China, for whatever reason, has done little
to reciprocate. Now, as President Bush winds up three weeks of
summits with the leaders of South Korea, Japan and Russia and
prepares for his first presidential summit with Mr. Hu, at least
the U.S-China relationship will be candid.
Tkacik, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in
Washington, D.C., is a retired officer in the U.S. foreign service
who served in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and
Appeared in the Asian Wall Street Jounal
Putting China on Notice
John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
Read More >>
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2015, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973