October 10, 2000 | Backgrounder on Asia
The recent approval of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China is good policy. Open trade will increase the flow of American goods and technology to China, helping to advance U.S. economic interests and foster the development of a Chinese middle class that increasingly enjoys economic freedom and less dependence on the state.
However, more American exports going to China also presents a greater risk that civilian U.S. technology with military applications could be sold to companies affiliated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which could then be used to improve its weapons-making capabilities. Now that the issue of PNTR has been settled, it is time to address this serious concern. To help ensure that the transfer of sensitive technology is not occurring, Congress enacted legislation in 1998 requiring the Clinton Administration to publish a list of Chinese companies in the United States that do business with the PLA.2 To date, the Administration has failed to comply with that law.
First, Chinese military-related companies operating within the United States may have an easier time bypassing U.S. export control laws, giving the PLA access to American technology that should be withheld on national security grounds.3 Such technology ranges from electronic communications to precision manufacturing machinery and lasers.
The debate in Washington over export controls to prevent the sale of such technology to China was temporarily set aside during consideration of PNTR. Congress should take up this matter now by demanding that the Administration comply with the law and publish the required list so appropriate action can be taken to ensure that sensitive dual-use American technology is not being acquired by the PLA. Such a list would assist U.S. licensing officers in adjudicating applications for the export of dual-use technologies, allow American companies to make informed decisions about whether to partner with certain Chinese counterparts, and help interested Americans make informed decisions about what products they wish to buy.
THE GROWING RISK
Despite President Clinton's assertions about China during summits with Jiang Zemin in both Washington (1997) and Shanghai (1998), China is not a "strategic partner" of the United States. Its aggressive behavior continues to threaten peace and stability in Asia. Beijing's focus on military modernization, its refusal to eschew the use of force against Taiwan and in the South China Sea, and its belligerent threats to use nuclear-tipped missiles to deter the United States from coming to Taiwan's defense in a cross-Strait conflict heighten concerns that the PLA may benefit from U.S.
China's military modernization program relies heavily on foreign technology that it acquires through direct purchase or reverse engineering. If appropriate precautions are not taken by the Administration to restrict the sale of dual-use technology, a higher volume of trade with China could increase the chances that such sensitive technology will get into the PLA's hands.
Dual-use civilian technology--products that have both civilian and military applications, such as supercomputers, telecommunications equipment, and lasers--can easily be adapted to serve less benign purposes, including the development of ballistic missiles. China's acquisition of dual-use technology and diversion of this technology to military use has serious implications for U.S. national security. China already has threatened to use force against the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan, and bitterly resents that the United States sent two aircraft carrier battlegroups to the Taiwan Strait when the PLA conducted live-firings of missiles there in 1996. Moreover, Beijing recently vowed to respond militarily to any attempt by U.S. armed forces to assist Taiwan in the event of an aggressive act by China.4 If China does attempt to solve the Taiwan issue by force, the U.S. military will be drawn into the conflict.5
The risk that U.S. technology could make the PLA more effective against the United States in such a confrontation means that the United States must carefully monitor high-technology sales to China. Negligence on the part of the Administration could lead to an unacceptable scenario in which U.S. technology is used against American soldiers. The risk increases if those responsible for controlling high-technology exports do not know which Chinese companies operating in the United States may have a direct connection to the Chinese military.
WHAT THE LAW REQUIRES
President Clinton signed the FY 1999 defense authorization bill into law on October 17, 1998. Section 1237 of this act stipulates that the Administration must produce and publish a list of companies associated with the PLA:
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall make a determination of those persons operating...in the United States...that are Communist Chinese military companies and shall publish a list of those persons in the Federal Register.
The act then directs the U.S. Secretary of Defense to consult with the Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to prepare the list.
The Clinton Administration has yet to publish this list. The deadline for compliance in P.L. 105-261 was January 15, 1999. More than six months after the deadline had passed, some Members of Congress wrote to the President and asked him to explain why the list of PLA-affiliated companies had not been published.6 The letter also asked what measures had been taken to ensure the veracity of the list: "[W]hat human and financial resources have been dedicated to compliance with the law?" "What interagency consultative processes have been instituted to ensure that the list of People's Liberation Army companies is accurate?" "What additional steps has your administration taken to ensure that the list you are obligated to produce reflects the best information available to the United States Government?"
Secretary of Defense William Cohen responded to this request on August 13, 1999, assuring Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA) and other Members of Congress that an effort was underway "to identify, within the executive branch, an agency which might more appropriately facilitate compliance with Section 1237 while also complying with other Federal law and protecting sensitive sources and methods."7 But over a year after he made this statement, no list of PLA companies in the United States has been produced.
Figuring out which Chinese companies operating in the United States do business with the PLA was made more difficult when President Jiang Zemin announced the government's divestiture of PLA companies and their conversion to civilian management.8 However, China had already made it clear that it planned to use such companies to improve military production and modernization. In a 1994 book discussing China's defense conversion from military to civilian production, senior Communist Party and defense industry-related officials explained:
During this government agency reform, in order to achieve this transformation of the operational mechanism of military-industrial enterprises, all the military-industrial ministries...have been switched to industrial corporations as economic bodies and industrial groups. This major reform of military-industrial management system will certainly promote the growth of military-industrial enterprises.9
This past May, two years after Jiang Zemin announced that businesses were being "officially de-linked" from the PLA, Vice President and Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Hu Jintao declared that, while "the work of withdrawing business activities had been basically completed," several "shortcomings exist."10 In July 2000, the Chinese government demanded that the PLA dispose of its mobile phone network because the PLA leadership had delayed divestiture by more than 18 months. To date, there are still around 100 to 200 similar cases of companies still controlled by the PLA. According to the respected Far Eastern Economic Review, "It [the PLA] is keeping some enterprises that provide cover for intelligence-gathering."11
By not complying with the law, the Clinton Administration is leaving unaddressed serious policy concerns surrounding China's proliferation of weapons and diversion of civilian technology to PLA industries.
The Administration assigned the Defense Intelligence Agency the task of compiling and producing the list of Chinese defense-related companies operating in the United States. In July 1999, the DIA called the task "unachievable."12 According to the DIA,
On 22 July 1998, Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin announced that "the Chinese army would no longer engage in commercial activities." As of 15 December 1998, all business ventures of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese People's Armed Police (PAP) were "officially" de-linked from the Chinese military. [Therefore, a listing of companies] cannot be readily accomplished, and indeed may not be possible if the Chinese military has complied with the government order.
The DIA further asserted that publication of a list in the Federal Register "would reveal sources and methods of collection." In addition, it said, since the PLA and PAP are no longer involved in business, the corporations on the list "might include entities that have since been sold to U.S. persons, which falls beyond the purview of the Defense Intelligence Agency." The DIA concluded that other agencies, such as the FBI or the U.S. Department of Commerce, were better suited to the task.
Moreover, in his August 1999 letter to Representative Cox, Secretary Cohen stated that additional investigation of companies formerly associated with the PLA might be in violation of existing U.S. laws. President Clinton acknowledged Cohen's response in a September 7, 1999, letter to Representative Cox, in which he stated: "I asked the Secretary of Defense to respond to your specific questions, and I understand that he has written recently to do so...."13
On September 21, 1999, more than eight months after the deadline established in P.L. 105-261, Members of Congress wrote to President Clinton again and demanded a more substantive explanation for his Administration's failure to comply with the law.14 Neither the President nor the Secretary of Defense has responded to that letter. It is unknown whether another agency has been identified or whether an interagency process has been set up so that the Administration can comply with the act and publish the required list.
WHY IDENTIFICATION IS
Ironically, as the Appendix to this paper shows, both the DIA and the Commerce Department have indeed been able to produce these lists in the past.15 As recently as June 15, 1998, the Department of Defense published as a Defense Intelligence Reference Document a PLA organizational chart specifying the defense-industrial corporations controlled by the PLA.16 Though some of those companies may since have changed their names or been "officially de-linked" from the PLA, the same intelligence-gathering protocol used by the DIA to identify these companies in 1998 should be used to identify any Chinese military-related companies today.
Moreover, despite the DIA's concern that publishing a list in the Federal Register would "reveal sources and methods of collection," no U.S. laws were violated when the Defense Department published its previous lists in 1995 and 1998. Nor were the sources and methods of intelligence collection it employed compromised.
Even the Bureau of Export Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce was able to produce a list of companies in May 1995. And similar but smaller lists have been published by non-governmental organizations--organizations that operate with significantly fewer resources than the federal government enjoys.17 Clearly, the DIA's claims that compiling a list of Chinese companies in the United States that do business with the PLA is "unachievable" are misleading.
WHAT MUST BE DONE
The Clinton Administration should comply with the law and publish the list of companies required by P.L. 105-261. The President should determine the necessary interagency process to deal with any conflicts over divisions of responsibility within the executive branch that may be encountered in accomplishing this task.
The list will enable Congress and the Administration to ensure that export controls keep up with technological developments and that sensitive technology is not traded to countries that could then use it in some way against the United States. Once the executive branch has released the list, American companies can exercise corporate responsibility by complying with all export regulations and assessing whether their involvement with PLA-related companies might put Americans, U.S. troops, or U.S. allies and friends at risk.
Granting PNTR and opening up trade with China is good policy. Publishing a list of Chinese companies that do business with the PLA is also good policy. It will reduce both the risk to U.S. military forces stationed around the world and the chances that sale of American technology to a Chinese military-related company operating in the United States could be approved by mistake.
Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D., is Director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
As recently as June 15, 1998, the federal government published lists of Chinese companies that do business directly with the PLA. This appendix includes the 1998 Department of Defense list published by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the 1995 DIA list, and a 1995 list published by the Bureau of Export Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The PLA departments that were identified on that list as doing business with these companies are included in parentheses.
3. A "Communist Chinese military company" is defined in P.L. 105-261 as any entity ("person") identified in either of two Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publications and any other entity owned or controlled by the PLA and engaged in providing commercial services, manufacturing, or exporting. The DIA documents referred to in the act include VP-1920-271-90, dated September 1990, and PC-1921-57-95, dated October 1995, or any update of these publications. The DIA updated these publications in "China's International Defense-Industrial Organizations," Defense Intelligence Reference Document DI-1921-60-98, published on June 15, 1998. See Appendix, infra.
4. Beijing issued a particularly strident and threatening White Paper concerning Taiwan on February 21, 2000. See Taiwan Affairs Office, Information Office of the State Council, People's Republic of China, "White Paper--The One China Principle and the Taiwan Issue," February 21, 2000.
5. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 states that any conflict in the Western Pacific would be a grave threat to American interests. See P.L. 96-8, Section 2(b4). Further, it states that the United States will "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."
6. Representatives Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-TX), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Christopher Cox (R-CA), Thomas M. Davis (R-VA), Tom DeLay (R-TX), David Drier (R-CA), Tillie Fowler (R-FL), J. C. Watts (R-OK), and Deborah Pryce (R-OH) jointly authored a letter to President Clinton dated July 19, 1999, asking him to comply with the statute.
8. President Jiang Zemin ordered this in July 1998, but it still is not implemented. See Susan Lawrence, "A Model People's Liberation Army," Far Eastern Economic Review, July 13, 2000, p. 14. See also Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service in Chinese, "PRC Meeting on Closing Army Businesses," FBIS-CHI-2000-0525, May 25, 2000.
15. See U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency, "China's International Defense-Industrial Organizations," Defense Intelligence Reference Document DI-1921-60-98; U.S. Department of Defense, "China's Defense-Industrial Organizations," Defense Intelligence Reference Document PC-1921-57-95, October 1995; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration, China Defense Industry Directory, May 1995, pp. 4-12.
17. See, for example, "China's People's Liberation Army: Where to Find PLA Companies in America, What Products the PLA sells in America, and Who Are the PLA's Customers?" AFL-CIO Food and Allied Services Trades Department, 1997. See also Students for a Free Tibet, University of Missouri chapter, Web site at http://www.umt.edu/asum/sft/boycott.htm.
18. U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency, "China's International Defense-Industrial Organizations," Defense Intelligence Reference Document, DI-1921-60-98, June 15, 1998. The Heritage Foundation makes no independent assessment of the reliability of this or the following lists. Nor does The Heritage Foundation attest to whether any of the companies listed have been de-linked after these lists were published, since that judgment can be made only by the United States government and its intelligence services.