1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


Joan Johnson-Freese
Professor of International Security Studies
Air War College, Maxwell AFB, AL 36112
Joint Committee Hearing of the Committee on International Relations
and Committee on National Security

17 June 1998

The views stated represent those of the author, and are not the opinions of either the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.

Having recently spent two years researching and writing a book analyzing the motivations and intentions of the Chinese space program, I would urge great restraint in approving legislation banning the export of U.S.-made satellites to China. The title of my book, The Chinese Space Program: A Mystery Within A Maze, reflects not only a Byzantine Chinese bureaucracy, but also that my research on China was the first time in all my research experience where I felt I had encountered deliberate subterfuge. Yet my analysis of the situation in China also led me to decisively conclude that U.S. policies toward China since 1986 have significantly strengthened our strategic position there, and subsequently U.S. national security interests, and ought to be continued and expanded.

In recent weeks, it appears that several domestic and foreign policy issues related to China have been inappropriately intermingled and confused. It is my fear that subsequently, actions concerning China may be undertaken that will be markedly counterproductive to the long-term national security interests of the United States. Therefore I offer you my analysis as testimony today toward achieving everyone's goal: the protection of our nation's national security.

The first task is to sort out the issues that have been raised. Domestically, there are two. A federal grand jury is currently seeking to determine if any U.S. export control laws may have been violated by Hughes and Loral in connection with the transfer of technology after the Intelsat 708 launch accident in February 1996. This is an important issue and one which is under investigation by the appropriate legal authorities, and hence inappropriate for political consideration. There is also the issue of whether campaign contributions influenced decision making regarding the transfer of sensitive technology to the Chinese by the Clinton Administration. Campaign fundraising and contributions and their impact on the American political system is an always-important issue, both here and in a broader sense as well. However, I believe that even in a worst case scenario of undue influence by corporations dealing with China, our national security was not jeopardized. At worst, contributions from either Loral or the Chinese would relate to potential commercial gain, not to military advantage.

The primary issue to be addressed concerning China can be simply stated as has the transfer of commercial space technology by the Reagan, Bush or Clinton Administrations jeopardized the national security of the United States with a resultant need to change our policy of engagement with China? I believe the answer is unequivocally, no.

Recently, sensational accusations have been made that through nefarious acts of the Clinton Administration since 1993, the United States has sold militarily sensitive technology to the Chinese. Perhaps the most disturbing allegation is that significant improvements in the Chinese ICBM capability are directly tied to the recent U.S. technology transfer. These allegations are based on half-facts that have been distorted and sensationalized to serve a political agenda. The Chinese do have ICBM's, the Chinese do launch satellites for the United States. However, the Chinese began their ICBM program in 1956, simultaneously tested their DF-2A rocket and an atomic bomb in 1966, and first launched their DF-5 ICBM in 1979. American cities have been targeted since the 1980's, and as we all know, with nuclear weapons pinpoint accuracy is not a requirement in a countervalue nuclear strategy. As a vital part of U.S. national security interests, three presidential administrations have made it a priority to ensure through a policy of peaceful engagement that the Chinese do not use this arsenal. To abdicate that priority now could bear grave consequences.

The transfer of technology to China has two aspects, technical and political. The technologies cited as militarily vital, however, (including clean rooms, payload farings, coupling load analysis information, and precise navigational equipment) that are alleged to have compromised U.S. national security, are common to commercial satellites generally and have been disseminated around the world for several decades. At the urging of the United States, Intelsat was formed in 1965 as an international consortium to own and operate a global satellite communications system. As part of its organizational mandate, the satellites it owns and operates are internationally developed and launched. Since Intelsat IV, launched in 1971, both U.S. and non-U.S. components have been and are being used in the construction of Intelsat state-of-the-art satellites.

Beyond Intelsat, companies from Japan, Germany, Canada, Russia, France and a multitude of other nations are actively engaged in competition to gain a foothold in the lucrative market that China's 1.3 billion people offers. Comparatively, U.S companies are the most constrained among the vast array of competitors. A German firm exports momentum wheels to China for use on its DFH-3 communications satellite. A Canadian company has formed a joint venture in China to build onboard satellite electronic and ground facilities. Russia and France sell high-resolution imagery. All this means that the technology and know-how for communication satellites that can be used by the Chinese military are not a solely-owned U.S. commodities to give away or even control.

On the other hand, it would be completely inconsistent and insupportable to have a policy that allows U.S. satellites to be launched abroad, from any country, without allowing the technical exchange necessary to maximize the chances of success. Indeed the U.S. government will be using Russian launch vehicles to lift many technologically significant items in support of the International Space Station program, and would be remiss not to do everything possible to assure a successful launch. That does not mean, however, that a national security breech is inevitable or even a concern. It would also be unrealistic and economically insufferable not to allow foreign launch of U.S. satellites because of both lower costs and demand which cannot be met domestically. The U.S. has insufficient launch assets to allow economic competitiveness in the communications satellite field without using foreign launchers. Today, coping with dual-use technology is a fact of life. Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater in the name of politics.

It is also both important and interesting to note that in the United States we are currently spending considerable time, energy and public and private funds trying to accomplish technology transfer at many different levels, military to civilian, public to private sector, and finding it far easier in theory than practice. Why then we expect that it would somehow be easier for the Chinese, with their entirely different cultural approach to everything from systems engineering to maintenance, and their debilitating propensity toward compartmentalization and bureaucratization, is rather astounding.

Further, most of the technology in question is commercial, not military, and though dual use, one cannot extrapolate too far. Just as nuclear fuel from a light-water reactor is not weapons grade, not all satellite technology is military technology. Just as the United States can launch space station components on Russian launchers without inherently compromising national security, so too can we launch commercial satellites on Chinese launchers without inherently compromising national security. In any case, regulations already ensure that a Pentagon official oversees all U.S. satellites launched by the Chinese 24-hours per day, until such time as they are actually on the launch pad. Consequently, there can be no possibility for the Chinese to obtain technological information by covert means.

Clearly the Chinese are adept at copying. They also have as long a history of cross utilization of space technology as the Russians and the United States. Indeed the location of the Xichang launch site is not entirely serendipitous. That the latitude coordinates of Xichang are similar to those of Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is not likely coincidental. After the Sino-Soviet split, the Chinese still had considerable Soviet space hardware to work from, and the biggest loss was in utilization knowledge. For that they had to rely on published data, which came primarily from the United States. Launching from the same latitude as KSC allowed the Chinese to emulate the expectations for such technical points as the proper rocket attitude and altitude. Should we then retract the First Amendment on the grounds that the Chinese acquired this knowledge from published information? I think not.

Politically, the scandal is perpetuated primarily through the argument that satellite waivers imposed on China after Tiananmen Square were improperly granted by the Clinton Administration. First, I would suggest that linking commercial policy, security policy and social policy has always been problematic for the United States. It is harder to change the culture of a country than it is either its political or its economic system. Expecting countries to abandon cultural norms, in the case of China norms going back thousands of years, overnight and in response to commercial threats, is rarely effective. Second, leverage to encourage countries to eventually recognize the benefits of change can become severely diminished when bound by sanctions. The waivers that were granted weighed and balanced the goal being sought by the United States, a long-term, stable relationship with China where the U.S. could be influential. Through this engagement, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the value and efficiencies of our democratic system.

From a Chinese strategic perspective, the government must maintain the ability to deal with domestic problems by providing returns (currently economic more than political) that contribute to real economic development for the people. Without this, the stability of the government becomes tenuous. Government stability and economic development therefore are entangled into a synergistic relationship, the hybrid combination of which becomes the number one priority for all decision making in China. Within that context, external decision making is relatively easy to predict. At the strategic level, China can be said to be vigorously pursuing the same development and modernization campaign that Japan undertook so successfully earlier.

It is the thesis of my book that careful analysis is warranted within the U.S. policy community toward identifying ways in which the United States might urge China toward a more acceptable position on the international spectrum, along the lines followed by Japan. Specifically regarding space, during the Cold War period, China emphasized the military and arms sales potential of space and space hardware. Now, in the post Cold War period, the United States ought to focus on the development of constructive policies aimed at encouraging China to emphasize space as an element of peaceful domestic development. The question then is, can this be done without compromising U.S. national security. The answer is yes, and we are on the right road in encouraging the commercial use of space and space technologies.

From a U.S. perspective, "engagement" has been a consistent theme of both the National Security Strategy and the Defense Strategy in recent years. History shows engagement to be a far more successful policy in securing national security goals than disengagement, and hence its embrace in the past, and recognition at all levels of government that it will be even more critical to the United States in the future. To ignore this core strategic premise now would be both unwise and dangerous.

Commercial space has been an area in which the United States has actively engaged China. That engagement has benefits and costs in several areas, including proliferation, economics, and politics. The first two inherently involve technology transfer. Whether the known costs, based on the actions of three administrations, have suddenly today exceeded the benefits is certainly an issue that is properly the subject of Congressional review. I would strongly suggest, however, that the overall engagement policy should be continued as it has many advantages.

The open accident review process initiated after their launcher failed while carrying the Intelsat 708 satellite was a major step forward in leading the Chinese away from the past opaqueness of their program. They engaged in such an open review reluctantly, and only because they feared the repercussions of the space insurance industry and resultant loss of commercial launch business that clearly would have occurred had they not. Although the new process of openness is an evolving one, the premise should not be discouraged. The shroud of secrecy that has previously surrounded the Chinese space program is being lifted, no matter how slowly and reluctantly, primarily because of western companies doing business in China. Indeed the private sector has allowed access to and provided far more information to U.S. intelligence than has ever been available before. The Chinese resist these inroads culturally and bureaucratically, but inroads are nonetheless steadily being made.

Equally important are the non-proliferation benefits of engagement. If the Chinese commercial launch market declines because of new regulations imposed by the United States, they will undoubtedly turn to supplementing their coffers through increased arms and missile sales. If they are not allowed to launch U.S. satellites they will increasingly turn to other countries. The United States government then will subsequently lose the ability to influence Chinese actions simply by being a non-player.

Clearly, the market potential in China is so enormous that most international corporations are competing relentlessly in order to gain a foothold. Since U.S. companies work within more stringent controls than do most other countries, the pressure to compete is considerable. That makes it more imperative for government engagement, not disengagement.. If control measures in areas concerning space technology transfer have not been adhered to and appropriately applied, then that is a matter for the courts. Yet, the policy itself remains sound.

The Chinese desire for foreign technology wherever and whenever they can get it makes it imperative to persuade the Chinese that it will benefit them in the long-run to favor commercial aspects of space, and cost them to do otherwise. That approach has already shown its effectiveness, especially in terms of adherence to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The M-11 missile transfers from China to Pakistan in 1992 are less likely in 1998 because of U.S. policies. It is more productive to stay focused on China in the present and future, rather than the past. The United States has embraced a new era and relationship with Russia, but we seem far more reluctant to do so with China. If Congress is seeking to identify cause and effect patterns related to U.S. actions in China, this is one to strongly consider. If the U.S. retreats from its policy of engagement with China, then we can expect proliferation problems to increase, not decrease.

The Chinese culturally understand the premise of reciprocity, and are willing to negotiate to preserve their own precarious domestic balance. It is up to the United States to make sure that the Chinese are then clear as to what we consider our priorities in particular instances of negotiation. Non-proliferation, human rights, market access, democratization, Taiwan, political influence in Asia, military modernization and other issues are all important, but cannot each be our number one priority simultaneously, and, as much as we might want them to be, they are not always quid pro quo issues.

National security is increasingly a multifaceted concept, involving military, political and economic aspects. The key is to balance these individual aspects, and to realize that focusing on one while neglecting the others is disadvantageous and contradictory to our National Security Strategy. As international economic competitiveness is increasingly recognized as a vital element of national security, as acknowledged in recent National Security Strategies, involving the Commerce Department in export reviews with the Departments of State and Defense seems pragmatic rather than nefarious. I would suggest that since 1986 U.S. policy concerning satellite transfers to China has worked well toward achieving a more stable and predictable peace with China and Asia generally, allowing further negotiation in the areas stated above from a position of increased leverage. Banning the export of U.S.-made satellites to China would likely result in the Chinese being pushed to a position diametrically opposite from a stable and predictable peace, if for no other reason than the domestic problems in China which could result or be exacerbated.

Defense Secretary Cohen's 1998 Annual Report to the President and Congress describes a U.S. defense strategy which includes a list of three elements requisite to shape the international security environment in ways favorable to US interests between 1998-2015. "Shaping" is described as efforts to promote and protect U.S. national interests through efforts to build coalitions, promote stability, reduce conflicts and threats, and deter aggression and coercion. This concept applies not only in the macro scale of relationships between nations, but also and more relevant in this case, in the internal challenges facing a large nation. Reduction of internal economic pressures helps nations become much more effective strategic trading partners.

The three policy recommendations that I make in my book aim to persuade Beijing that in order to sustain a long-term relationship with the outside world requisite for economic development and hence internal stability, it is in its best interests to make certain changes. Suggestions on how this might be done fall into three inter-related, general categories.

These recommendations are intended to build confidence in both China and the United States.

Lack of a viable legal system to govern business is what separates China from other Asian countries, like Japan. China remains a country where business dealings are ruled by complex, interpersonal relationships based on Confucian tradition. It is what allows Guan Xi, the web of necessary personal connections, to dominate business practices and slow the move from opaqueness to transparency, to the detriment of international commerce and ultimately understanding their key strategic objectives. Removing this opaqueness is critical, as opaqueness fosters technology diversion. Moving away from Guan Xi to a binding commercial code might also have spillover effects into areas of democratization and human rights.

In general, a policy of greater reciprocity would allow Beijing to pursue its own internal goals while at the same time tolerating U.S. pursuance of its own priorities. This can be particularly important regarding MTCR adherence in the future. It would also, however, require the United States to make some difficult political choices.

International cooperation recognizes that you cannot influence another person without leverage, and seeks to build such leverage. Satellites for domestic use are particularly high on Beijing's list of priorities, and also a matter of considerable internal dispute. Beijing's concerns are several: bureaucratic competition between the China Aerospace Corporation (CASC) and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MPT), domestic need, the ever present concerns about preserving domestic stability, international economic competitiveness, and a debate over foreign component use and satellite design.

Beijing is eager to link China's urban and rural areas, recognizing that political discontent in the past has come from rural areas feeling disconnected. Yet less than 5% of China's population has phone service. Plus, although 1.3 billion people is a large market, providing them jobs is a major domestic concern. Therefore, whether to build more CASC supported DFH-3 satellites, which requires major components from abroad (not necessarily the U.S.), or go with totally new, foreign-designed more efficient satellites, supported by MPT, is a current discussion. The U.S. can influence this decision, but only as a player.

Better maps, commercially available satellite imagery, global position information, weather forecasting hardware and data, all can arguably be said to increase Chinese military capabilities. The United States, however, is not the sole or even the primary purveyor of these or other technologies or services available in the world market. Turbofan engines for jet trainer aircraft can be applied to cruise missile technology. Yet turbofan engines are available from a variety of industrial and third-world countries, including Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. How far do we want to reach into American industrial competitiveness and jobs, in a futile attempt to put the genie back into the bottle? Controlled licensing of technology offers the United States more leverage than a free-wheeling technology grab by the Chinese from countries and companies overly anxious to establish their place in the 1.3 billion person Chinese market. In the post Cold War world, leverage is more important in posturing for national security than false illusions about controlling technologies available in the open market.

In conclusion, I would strongly urge you not to retreat from the engagement policy with China, including U.S. satellite launches, which has enhanced our strategic position there, in Asia, and in the world generally. It is only through engagement that we can transition from the Cold War era into an era of cooperation. That is the goal from which our focus must not stray.