The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang

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DOI: 10.1080/10163270309464034
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Abstract
This article discusses major proliferation trends in Asia and analyses the motivations, objectives and interests of China, Pakistan and North Korea behind WMD proliferation. It argues that China and its proxies continue to be instrumental in fueling major proliferation crises, large and small, imminent and somewhat more distant. The North Korean-Pakistan nukes-for-missiles barter deal illustrates how China is now facing the consequences of its own shortsighted policies. While China's support for North Korea has its roots in the Cold War, Beijing's support for Pakistan has its roots in China's hostility toward and rivalry with India. Nuclear proliferation through networking among second-tier nuclear states and nuclear aspirants has opened a Pandora's Box of a nuclear arms race. Pakistan's nuclear weapons exports to North Korea not only impinge on US security interests in Northeast Asia and the Pacific, but also raise the specter of the likelihood of nuclear weapons/materials/know-how being passed on to non-state actors. The last section provides an analysis of the implications of WMD proliferation for the Asian balance-of-power, especially for the Sino-US-Japanese triangular relationship and Sino-Korean relations. It concludes that in the absence of great power consensus and coordinated strategy, nuclear and missile proliferation may well be unstoppable in the Asia-Pacific.
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The Proliferation Axis:
Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
Mohan Malik*
Abstract
This article discusses major proliferation trends in Asia and
analyses the motivations, objectives and interests of China, Pak-
istan and North Korea behind WMD proliferation. It argues that
China and its proxies continue to be instrumental in fueling major
proliferation crises, large and small, imminent and somewhat more
distant.
The North Korean-Pakistan nukes-for-missiles barter deal illus-
trates how China is now facing the consequences of its own short-
sighted policies. While China’s support for North Korea has its
roots in the Cold War, Beijing’s support for Pakistan has its roots
in China’s hostility toward and rivalry with India. Nuclear pro-
liferation through networking among second-tier nuclear states and
nuclear aspirants has opened a Pandora’s Box of a nuclear arms
race. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons exports to North Korea not only
impinge on US security interests in Northeast Asia and the Pacific,
but also raise the specter of the likelihood of nuclear weapons/mate-
rials/know-how being passed on to non-state actors.
The last section provides an analysis of the implications of
WMD proliferation for the Asian balance-of-power, especially for
the Sino-US-Japanese triangular relationship and Sino-Korean rela-
tions. It concludes that in the absence of great power consensus
and coordinated strategy, nuclear and missile proliferation may
well be unstoppable in the Asia-Pacific.
* The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the official
policy or position of the Asia-Pacific Center, the Department of Defense or the
US government.
The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. XV, No. 1, Spring 2003
57
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58 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
Introduction
Recent media reports of Chinese and Pakistani assistance to North
Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have not only
once again drawn the international community’s attention to the chal-
lenges facing the global nuclear non-proliferation (NNP) regime but
also made public what has long been common knowledge in the intel-
ligence and policymaking community. Amongst the first-tier five
declared Nuclear Weapon States (NWS), the commitment of the Peo-
ple’s Republic of China (PRC), the last signatory to the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to the cause of non-proliferation has long
been the subject of comment and criticism.1Despite Beijing’s numer-
ous pledges, assurances and legal commitments to the contrary, intel-
ligence reports suggest that “the China shop” for nuclear and mis-
sile technology sales remains open for business.2China has been held
responsible for aiding, either directly or indirectly, the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the Korean Peninsula, and
in South Asia and the Middle Eastthe world’s most flammable
regions.3The nuclear weapons technology involved in North Korea’s
1See Shirley A. Kan, China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and
Missiles: Policy Issues (Washington, DC: Report for Congress, Congressional
Research Service, Dec. 4, 2002), available at http://www.fas.org/spp/
starwars/crs/RL31555.pdf; J. Mohan Malik “China and the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Regime,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Dec. 2000),
pp. 445–478; Mohan Malik, “China plays ‘the proliferation card’,” Jane’s Intel-
ligence Review [hereafter JIR], Vol. 12, No. 7 (July 2000), pp. 34–37.
2CIA report to the US Congress on WMD proliferation for the period of July
2001 to December 2001 was submitted in January 2003. See US Department
of State, “CIA Report Documents Weapons Proliferation Trends,” Jan. 7, 2003;
Bill Gertz, “CIA Says N. Korea Tried To Buy Nuclear Gear In 2001,” Wash-
ington Times, Jan. 8, 2003, p. 3.
3According to the Director of Central Intelligence, the PRC remains a “key
supplier” of technology inconsistent with nonproliferation goals–particularly
missile or chemical technology transfers. See Kan, China and Proliferation of
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles. In its report released in July 2002,
the US-China Security Review Commission stated: “China provides tech-
nology and components for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery
systems to terrorist-sponsoring states such as North Korea, Pakistan, Iran,
Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan.”
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programincluding large numbers of centrifuge machines to produce
weapons-grade uraniumhas its origins in Chinese assistance to Pak-
istan’s nuclear program. To make matters worse, long-time recipients
of WMD and missile-related technology from China, second-tier pro-
liferators, such as Pakistan and North Korea, are now disseminating
WMD technologies and expertise to third-tier nuclear aspirants such
as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.4
More importantly, Chinese assistance to Pakistan and North Korea
and Islamabad’s nukes-for-missiles barter trade with Pyongyang epit-
omize the emergence of a set of mutually reinforcing proliferation
linkages while highlighting the global nature of the nuclear problem
and the blurring of the distinctions between Northeast Asian and
South Asian security complexes. Proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction to and from radicalized and volatile Pakistan or the unpre-
dictable, Stalinist regime of North Korea or “Saddamized” Iraq and
“Khameini-ized” Iran or Wahabi clergy-dominated Saudi Arabia,
could see a proliferation chain being transformed into an interactive,
multi-dimensional, interlinked chain, stretching from Israel to North
Korea in the coming decades. Even more alarming is the prospect of
Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan reconsidering their non-nuclear
weapons stance to counter what they may perceive as the China-led
bloc of nuclear powers.
This article discusses major proliferation trends in Asia and ana-
lyzes the motivations, objectives and interests of China, Pakistan and
North Korea behind WMD proliferation. It argues that China and its
proxies continue to be instrumental in fueling major proliferation
crises large and small, imminent and somewhat more distant. North
Korea and Pakistan, with their limited scientific and industrial capa-
bilities and collapsing economies, could not have developed weapons
Mohan Malik 59
4According to the CIA, during the second half of 2001, “North Korea ...
export [ed] significant ballistic-missile–related equipment, components, mate-
rials and technical expertise to the Middle East, South Asia, and North
Africa.” See Michele Lerner, “North Korea Weapons A Nuclear Nightmare,”
Washington Times, Jan. 17, 2003, p. 1; Gaurav Kampani, “Second-Tier Prolif-
eration: The Case of Pakistan and North Korea,” Nonproliferation Review
(Fall/Winter 2002), pp. 107–116; Anwar Iqbal, “US studies Pakistan, Saudi
N-ties: Report,” Dawn (Karachi), Aug. 2, 2002, p. 1.
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60 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
of mass destruction without substantial technical and financial assis-
tance from China and some of the Middle Eastern countries. Nor is
it a sheer coincidence that the United States, Japan, South Korea, and
Indiacountries that either see China as their rival or have strained
ties with Chinafind themselves subjected to nuclear blackmail, ter-
rorism, intimidation, and coercion by countriesNorth Korea and
Pakistanthat happen to be China’s allies. The last section provides
an analysis of the implications of WMD proliferation for the Asian
balance-of-power, especially for the Sino-US-Japanese triangular rela-
tionship and Sino-Korean relations and the future of the global nuclear
non-proliferation regime It concludes that in the absence of great
power consensus and coordinated strategy, nuclear and missile pro-
liferation may well be unstoppable in the Asia-Pacific.
WMD Friendship Store: Dangerous Liaisons
China bears a great deal of responsibility for recent nuclear pro-
liferation in Asia given the assistance it has provided to Pakistan’s
and North Korea’s nuclear/missile efforts over the years.5China’s
nuclear and missile technology transfers to Pakistan and North Korea
have further implications for secondary, or retransferred, proliferation,
since these two reportedly have supplied technology to Iran, Iraq,
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.6Throughout the 1980s and
1990s, the United States sought to persuade China to stop WMD pro-
liferation activities but to little or no avail.7Critics contend that if the
so-called “Axis of Evil” (“AoE”) countries have one thing in common,
it is their “China connection.” They argue that going by the “AoE”
5See E. Ahrari, “Sino-Indian Nuclear Perspectives,” JIR, Aug. 1998, p. 33; and
Mohan Malik, “Nuclear Proliferation in Asia-The China Factor,” Australian
Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 53, No. 1 (April 1999), pp. 31–34.
6Information here draws on Steve Doll, “China’s Record of Proliferation Mis-
behavior,” Issue Brief, Nuclear Control Institute, Washington, Sept. 29, 1997.
7Proliferation: Chinese Case Studies, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Inter-
national Security Proliferation, and Federal Services of the Committee on
Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, 105th Congress, 1st Session, April
10, 1997, pp. 8–12.
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criteria (non-democratic/militarist regimes, hostility to the United
States and its allies, track record in promoting proliferation and/or
terrorism and, their capability to do terrible things), if North Korea
is a card-carrying member of the “AoE,” then Pakistan or China should
also be included in President Bush’s “Axis of Evil.”8Unfortuantely,
those China-watchers and arms-controllers who have long argued that
Washington’s confidence in bringing about a change in Beijing’s non-
proliferation policies and practices was misplaced, have been proven
right time and again. Neither inducements offered to China by the
West (in the form of recognition of its status as a major power and
access to world trade, capital, and technology) nor sanctions have
succeeded in bringing a complete end to its dangerous liaisons with
present and would-be bomb makers. The export of nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons material and missile technology to rogue
states and unstable regions now has the potential to unravel the global
non-proliferation regime in the early 21st century.
China-Pakistan
Of all the nations that China has helped, none has reaped more
benefits than Pakistan, often getting materials it could not get else-
wherehighly enriched uranium (HEU); assistance with the building
of an unsafeguarded 50-70-MWt plutonium production reactor at
Khushab and plutonium reprocessing facility at Chasma; enough ura-
nium hexafluoride feedstock to enable operation of Pakistan’s cen-
trifuges; ring magnets and the machines for the production of
weapons-grade uranium for its bombs.9All this was in contravention
of non-proliferation pacts to which China is a party. It is no exag-
geration to say that China was the chief instrument by which Pakistan
got its bomb. That is why, soon after carrying out its nuclear tests in
May 1998, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharief, praised and
Mohan Malik 61
8Leonard Doyle, “Pakistan is a rogue nation that supports terror,” Indepen-
dent (Dec. 12, 2002), available at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/
asia_china/story.jsp?story=360795.
9Bill Gertz, “China Aids Pakistani Plutonium Plant,” Washington Times, April
3, 1996, p. A4; G. Milhollin and G. White, “A New China Syndrome: China’s
Arms Bazaar,” Washington Post, May 12, 1991, pp. C1–C4.
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62 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
thanked China for its contribution and help. According to Gary Mil-
hollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, “If
you subtract China’s help from the Pakistani nuclear program, there
is no Pakistani nuclear program.”10 US intelligence documents over
the past 20 years paint a thorough picture of close Sino-Pakistani
cooperation in the nuclear field, which began following the signing
of a secret Sino-Pakistani nuclear technology cooperation agreement
in 1976.11 All of Pakistan’s nuclear labsKahuta, Khushab or Chash-
mahave been aided by China. Some US intelligence reports even
claim that one or two nuclear devices that Pakistan tested in May
1998 were actually Chinese. This would amount to a violation of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that Beijing has signed, but
not ratified. China not only provided Pakistan with nuclear plants
and warheads but also their delivery systems: ready-to-launch M-9,
M-11 and a number of Dong Feng-21 (renamed Hatf, Shaheen I &
Shaheen II respectively) ballistic missiles.12 China also helped Pakistan
build a missile production factory near Rawalpindi. Chinese exports
of missiles, components and related technologies to Pakistan have led
to repeated confrontations with the United States, and the imposition
of sanctions against China.13
10 Quoted in R. Windrem, “China gave Pakistan design data, training and
nuclear material,” Indian Express, June 9, 1999, p. 1.
11 See John Garver, “Nuclear Weapons and the China-India Relationship,” paper
presented at conference on “South Asia’s Nuclear Dilemma,” Weatherhead
Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Feb. 18–19, 1999; T.
Weiner, “US and Chinese Aid Was Essential as Pakistan Built Bomb,” Inter-
national Herald Tribune, June 2, 1998, p. 1; “Atom Arms Parts Sold to Pakistan
by China, US Says,” New York Times, Feb. 8, 1996, p. Al.
12 For a confirmation of Chinese supplies of ballistic missiles to Pakistan, see
Chinese ambassador to the USA, Zhu Qizhen’s address to the National Press
Club, Washington, DC, Reuters Transcript Report (June 27, 1991) cited in J.
Wilson and Hua Di, “China’s Ballistic Missile Program,” International Secu-
rity, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall 1992), p. 37; D. Lennox, “Control regimes fail to
stem the spread,” JIR, Sept. 1999, pp. 50–54; R. J. Smith, “China Linked to
Pakistani Missile Plant,” Washington Post, Aug. 25, 1996, p. 1.
13 “US says Pakistan has full Chinese missile system,” Reuters, Sept. 14, 1999,
available at www.cnn.com.asianow<southasia>; R. J. Smith, “Spy Photos
Suggest China Missile Trade,” Washington Post, July 3, 1995, p. 1; G. Milhollin,
“China Cheats (What a Surprise!),” New York Times, April 24, 1997, p. A35.
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Information collected by American, Israeli and Indian intelligence
agencies has shown that China is continuing covert assistance to Pak-
istan. There were unconfirmed reports of China’s transfer of some of
its tactical nukes to Pakistan and technical assistance for its short-
range missiles and its medium-range Shaheen II missile during the
2001-2002 border standoff between India and Pakistan following the
terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.14 American satellite moni-
toring of northern Kashmir had detected truck movements of 12 con-
signments of Chinese missiles on May 1, 2002 via China and the
Northern Areas of Pakistan along the Karakoram Highway. These
transfers contradicted China’s pledge in November 2001 “not to assist,
in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that
could be used to deliver nuclear weapons.”15 China has also used
Pakistan as a front in the arms trade with several Middle Eastern
states. Close on the heels of revelations about Pakistan scientists’ links
with al Qaeda came the reports of a Pakistani scientist’s offer of help
to Iraq soon after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait with nuclear weapon
designs and bomb components and new allegations of a Pakistan-
North Korea nexus. The alleged Islamabad-Baghdad WMD link comes
in the wake of allegations that Pakistan helped North Korea go
nuclear. Before that, Pakistani nuclear scientists were alleged to have
met and offered help to Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and Osama bin
Laden.16
Mohan Malik 63
14 For details, see Mohan Malik, “The China Factor in the India-Pakistan Con-
flict,” Parameters, Spring 2003, pp. 1-16. “We cannot rule out the possibility
of continued contacts between Chinese and Pakistani entities on Pakistani
nuclear weapons development,” according to the US Department of State,
“CIA Report Documents Weapons Proliferation Trends,” Jan. 7, 2003, avail-
able at http://www.satribune.com/archives/jan13_19_03/P1_targets.htm,
http://www.satribune.com/archives/jan13_19_03/P1_targets.htm.
15 Bill Gertz, “CIA Says N. Korea Tried To Buy Nuclear Gear In 2001,” Wash-
ington Times, January 8, 2003, p. 3. Also see US Department of State, “CIA
Report Documents Weapons Proliferation Trends,” Washington Times, Aug.
6, 2001; B. Raman, “A warning shot for Islamabad,” Asia Times online, Dec.
13, 2002, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DL13Df03.
html, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DL13Df03.html.
16 James Bone, “Pakistani Scientist ‘Offered Saddam Nuclear Designs’,” Times,
Dec. 20, 2002.
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64 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
China-North Korea
While China-Pakistan nuclear and missile transfers are well-
known, well-acknowledged and well-documented, there is no con-
sensus amongst intelligence agencies on the nature, extent and dura-
tion of direct Chinese assistance to North Korea.17 Though evidence
is sketchy, it can be safely concluded that Beijing has contributed a
great deal more to Pyongyang’s long-range missile program than its
nuclear weapons program. However, this assessment raises questions
about whether China’s nuclear technology has indirectly contributed
to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program through Pakistan, since
China is the “principal supplier” to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons pro-
gram. Several hundred North Korean experts were trained in pluto-
nium separation and other nuclear technologies in China (as well as
in the former Soviet Union) during the 1960s and 1970s. China is also
believed to have directly assisted North Korea’s ballistic missile pro-
gram.18 Much like Pakistan’s Ghauri and Shaheen (tested in April 1998
and 1999) and Iran’s Shahab (tested in July 1998), North Korea’s Taepo
Dong (tested in August 1998) medium-to-intermediate range missile
has its origins in Chinese CSS-2 missile technology. Pyongyang has
produced and deployed as many as 100 Nodong missiles with a range
of 1,300 kilometers, enough to target most of Japan. It also has flight-
tested the Taepo Dong-1, a nuclear weapons delivery system with pos-
sible intercontinental range that can reach continental United States.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Beijing’s growing political and eco-
nomic ties with Seoul since the early 1990s did not bring an end to
Beijing-Pyongyang military collaboration (see Table 1). China provides
North Korea with food, oil and other essentials that keep this total-
itarian basket case of a country afloat. The suspicion that North Korea
has long served as a conduit for Chinese supplies to other countries
was confirmed by a 1999 Pentagon intelligence report, which said
“the Chinese are proliferating on a consistent basis without techni-
17 M. Hibbs, “No US Agency Consensus on DPRK Nuclear Progress,” Nucle-
onics Week, Jan. 6, 1994, p. 10.
18 L. Spector et al, Tracking Nuclear Proliferation (Carnegie Endowment for Inter-
national Peace, 1995), p. 49.
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cally breaking agreements with the United States.”19 Beijing, however,
has denied US accusations that it provided Pyongyang with missile
technology and help for its nuclear weapons program.
Mohan Malik 65
19 Bill Gertz, “China Still Shipping Arms Despite Pledges,” Washington Times,
April 15, 1999, p. 1. Beijing is reported to have diverted US-manufactured
equipment to Pakistan’s National Development Centre by disguising the
shipment in export documents as “Masada Cookware.” J. S. Bermudez Jr,
“DPRK-Pakistan Ghauri Missile Cooperation,” Federation of American
Scientists (FAS), available at http://www.fas.org.
Table 1. China-North Korea Missile Nexus: The Smoking Gun
YEAR KEY DEVELOPMENTS
Mid- – North Korea received Chinese missile technology of Soviet design
1970s and was involved in the joint development of the Chinese DF-61,
a 1,000 km-range nuclear missile that was to be turned over to
Pyongyang. Although this program ended in 1978 when its Chinese
sponsor fell from favor, by that time North Korea had acquired
valuable design assistance from the Chinese.
Chinese assistance helped Pyongyang reverse-engineer a version of
the Scud missile it had purchased from Egypt in 1976.
Mid-to- – North Korea arranged for Iranian funding of its indigenous Scud-B
late missile program in the mid-1980s; these links with Tehran continue
1980s to the present day.
North Korea served as a conduit for Chinese transfers of Silkworm
anti-ship missiles to Iran to avoid Washington’s censure of Beijing.
One 1988 transfer reportedly included 80 Chinese Silkworms and 40
North Korean Scud-Bs as part of the same shipment.
1993 A test-launch of the 1,000-km range Nodong missile from North Korea
evidently “involved no telemetry, reportedly a signature of some
Chinese missile tests.”
1994 A missile mockup of the long-range Taepo Dong-2 resembled the
Chinese CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The Wall Street Journal published a discovery by the US Defense Intel-
ligence Agency that one stage of the new North Korean missile was
a copy of the Chinese CSS-2 missile.
1995 US intelligence sources claimed that China was both assisting North
Korea to develop a family of long-range ballistic missiles and train-
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66 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
ing some 200 Korean missile engineers in China. That family of long-
range missiles turned out to be the Taepo Dong, which Pyongyang
successfully launched in August 1998ten years before the CIA
believed possible.
1997 A “joint team” of Chinese and North Korean technicians went to Iran
to assist in Tehran’s ballistic missile efforts. The Iranian Shahab-3 and
Shahab-4 missiles are variants of North Korean and Chinese missiles.
North Korea likely has used the Iranian and Pakistani missile tests
for its own missile program development to circumvent Pyongyang’s
“promise” not to conduct missile launches (the Shahab-3 is the
Nodong; the planned Shahab-5 is the Taepo Dong-2).
1998 The Washington Times (Feb. 23, 1999) reported that the US National
Security Agency (NSA) suspected in late 1998 that the China Academy
of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) was working with North
Korea on its space program (closely related to missiles) to develop
satellites.
The PLA’s Deputy Chief of General Staff, Lt-General Xiong Guangkai,
visited North Korea in early August 1998, three weeks before the
surprising test-firing of a three-stage, medium-range Taepo Dong-1
missile on August 31.
1999 A NSA report (March 8, 1999) suggested that China sold specialty
steel for use in North Korea’s missile program.
In June, US intelligence reportedly found that Chinese entities trans-
ferred accelerometers, gyroscopes, and precision grinding machinery
to North Korea (Washington Times, July 20, 1999).
A classified report dated October 20 noted that China’s Changda
Corp. sought to buy Russian gyroscopes that are more of the same
that China supplied to the North Korean missile program earlier that
year (Washington Times, Nov. 19, 1999). The South Korean newspaper
Joong Ang Ilbo (Nov. 25) reported that “China had recently sold North
Korea massive quantities of military equipment.”
In December, the NSA discovered an alleged deal to supply Chinese-
made missile-related items to North Korea through a Hong Kong
company.
2000 In October, China invited seven Pakistani and four North Korean
nuclear and metallurgical scientists to its Lop Nor nuclear test facility
to demonstrate processes to miniaturized nuclear warheads and
synchronized missile warhead caps for multiple warhead missile
systems. The miniaturization of a nuclear package, advanced guidance
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Mohan Malik 67
components and stage separation mechanisms are critical to North
Korea’s efforts to develop a nuclear-capable Taepo Dong-class missile
with a range to target the United States. These are the areas where
Chinese assistance is still occurring, possibly under the guise of satel-
lite-launch assistance.
2001 A CIA report said that North Korea acquired missile-related raw mate-
rials and components, especially through North Korean firms in
China, in the first half of 2001.
2002 PLA’s Lt-General Xiong Guangkai visited Pakistan in March to sign
“Joint Defense” and “Joint Defense Production” agreements and later
North Korea in October.
North Korea acknowledged a secret program to enrich uranium to
develop nuclear weapons during talks with the US on October 4.
US intelligence officials told The Washington Times that North Korea
received a shipment of 20 tons of a specialty chemical known as
tributyl phosphate, or TBP, from a Chinese company in Dalian in
early December. The TBP can be used to extract material for nuclear
bombs from North Korea’s stockpile of spent nuclear-reactor fuel and
thus raised new concerns that China was secretly assisting North
Korea, while publicly saying it wanted to see a nuclear-free Korean
Peninsula.
Sources: Information contained in the above table is based on T. Woodrow, “China
Opens Pandora’s Nuclear Box,” China Brief, Vol. 2, Issue 24 (Dec. 10, 2002),
available at http://china.jamestown.org/pubs/view/cwe_002_024_001. htm,
http://china.jamestown.org/pubs/view/cwe_002_024_001.htm; S. A. Kan,
China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues
(Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Dec. 4, 2002), pp. 13–
14; L. Niksch, North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program, CRS Issue Brief IB91141;
K. Min-seok and Oh Young-hwan, “Iran said to be buyer of North missiles,”
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 19, 2002, available at http://english.joins.com/Article.
asp?aid=20021219024551&sid=200; “China in Pak-N.Korea nuclear axis,”
Newsinsight.net, Oct. 19, 2002; B. Gertz, “Panel To Probe China’s Nuclear-
Related Sales To N. Korea,” Washington Times, Dec. 20, 2002; E. Timperlake
and W. C. Triplett, II, “N. Korea, Pakistan, China,” Washington Times, Dec.
8, 2002; B. Gertz, “China Ships North Korea Ingredient For Nuclear Arms,”
Washington Times, Dec. 17, 2002; “CIA Says N. Korea Tried To Buy Nuclear
Gear In 2001,” Washington Times, Jan. 8, 2003; M. Ijaz and R. J. Woolsey,
“Cut Supply Lines That Fuel Pyongyang’s Nuclear Dreams,” Los Angeles
Times, Jan. 12, 2003; Author’s discussions with South Korean officials and
analysts, Sept. 2001–Nov. 2002.
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68 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
According to a CIA report released on Jan. 7, 2003, North Korea
tried to buy large amounts of equipment for a uranium-weapons
program as late as in 2001 and also purchased raw materials and
components for missiles from China. A defense agreement that
Pyongyang concluded with Moscow in 2001 will pave the way for
arms sales and weapons-technology transfers to North Korea. React-
ing to a Washington Times (Dec. 9, 2002) report that North Korea was
trying to purchase a chemical known as tributyl phosphate (TBP) from
China, that is used in purifying uranium and for reprocessing spent
plutonium fuel, chairman the US-China Security Review Commission,
Roger Robinson, announced the establishment of a congressionally-
mandated commission to hold hearings on transfers of Chinese
military goods to North Korea. “There is a burgeoning nuclear crisis
unfolding on the Korean Peninsula that demands enhanced export-
control vigilance, particularly on the part of Pakistan, China and
Russia,” said Robinson.20 If anything, the TBP transfer once again
highlighted the Chinese government’s failure to control the export of
goods related to nuclear-weapons production and was interpreted as
an indication of Beijing’s unwillingness to support US efforts to denu-
clearize North Korea.21 Nobody in the US intelligence community
believes that China was “completely in the dark,” as President Jiang
had claimed at his summit with President Bush at Crawford in Octo-
ber 2002.22 Pyongyang’s admission of a uranium enrichment-based
nuclear weapons program in October on the eve of the Sino-US
summit may have come as a surprise to the Chinese leadership, but
North Korea’s nuclear endeavor must have been known to the Chinese
intelligence agencies.
In fact, the missiles-for-nukes barter deal between Pakistan and
North Korea has a more direct Chinese angle than the fact that these
two happen to be allies of China. General Xiong Guangkai, the Peo-
20 Bill Gertz, “Panel To Probe China’s Nuclear-Related Sales To N. Korea,”
Washington Times, Dec. 20, 2002, p. 3; and “N. Korea Seeks Aid From China
On Nukes,” Washington Times, Dec. 9, 2002, p. 1.
21 Bill Gertz, “China Ships North Korea Ingredient For Nuclear Arms,” Washing-
ton Times, Dec. 17, 2002, p. 3.
22 John Tkacik, “Pollyanna-Like on Pyongyang,” Asian Wall Street Journal,
Dec. 2, 2002.
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ple’s Liberation Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence (who in
1996 threatened to nuke Los Angeles and San Francisco if the United
States intervened on Taiwan’s behalf, and the man who calls Pakistan
“China’s Israel”), is believed to be the broker in the nuclear weapons
for ballistic missiles swap between Pakistan and North Korea.23 Fur-
thermore, the payload and long distance make it highly likely that
the C-130s would have refueled at PLA Air Force bases in western
China at least twice, once on arrival and once on departure. In the
unlikely event that C-130s flew direct without requiring any refuel-
ing in China, it is inconceivable that Islamabad would have passed
on Chinese-origin nuclear technology in such quantities over such a
long period of time to Pyongyang without Beijing’s knowledge and
consent. As Thomas Woodrow points out, “Chinese technicians work-
ing in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile facilities would have notified
Beijing in any event.”24 If the international community wants to get
to the bottom of this matter, then Pakistan, Russia, and China need
to be called upon to “detail what nuclear technology and hardware
they allowed North Korea to import.”25 At the Sino-US security dia-
logue in December 2002, senior US Defense officials once again urged
the Chinese to increase their efforts to stop the export of Chinese
technology that could be used to produce nuclear, chemical or bio-
logical weapons in countries like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria
Mohan Malik 69
23 Interestingly, General Xiong’s visits to Pyongyang and Islamabad are often
followed by serious escalations on the Korean Peninsula and South Asia.
Not long after General Xiong’s visit to Pyongyang in August 1998, North
Korea terrified Japan by firing an intermediate-range ballistic missile. This
missile launch was preceded by a serious escalation in South Asia months
before with the launching of a Pyongyang-supplied Nodong (Ghauri) missile
by Islamabad followed by tit-for-tat nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in
May 1998. Ironically, General Xiong was spotted in Islamabad in March 2002
signing agreements on “Joint Defense” and “Joint Military Production” at
the time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and later in
October in Pyongyang. See Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett, “N.
Korea, Pakistan, China,” Washington Times, Dec. 8, 2002.
24 Thomas Woodrow, “China Opens Pandora’s Nuclear Box,” China Brief, Vol.
2, Issue 24 (Dec. 10, 2002), available at http://china.jamestown.org/pubs/
view/cwe_002_024_001.htm.
25 Henry Sokolski cited in Kan, China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass
Destruction and Missiles, p. 14.
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70 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
and Iraq. The Chinese had made no promises, but “asserted that they
were no longer providing missile technology to North Korea (Italics
Added).”26
Pakistan-North Korea
As noted earlier, it is quite a well-known fact that China was
mainly instrumental in Pakistan’s acquisition of its atom bomb. What
is, however, not so well-known is the not-so-secret North Korea-Pak-
istan nuclear and missile nexus. While Pyongyang has served as a
conduit for ballistic missile supplies to Pakistan, Islamabad has shared
its weapons-capable highly enriched uranium technology with the
North Korean regime (see Table II). In the early 1990s, an insecure
Islamic republic of Pakistan, facing US-imposed sanctions, but des-
perate to counter India’s superior military capability, turned to an
ostracized and poor, but uranium-rich, communist North Korea, which
was feeling cut off from its patrons – Russia and China. Since
Pyongyang was engaged in its own nuclear and missile programs,
the two became “natural allies” in isolation, supporting each other’s
WMD efforts. Pakistan reportedly helped North Korea conduct a
series of “cold tests,” simulated nuclear explosions, using natural
uranium, which are necessary to determine whether a nuclear device
will detonate properly.27 Even after General Musharraf sided with the
United States in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and hunting down
al-Qaeda leaders post-September 11, 2001, and the Bush administra-
tion’s characterization of North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as
part of the “Axis of Evil” in January 2002, Islamabad continued its
murky relationship with Pyongyang.28 As late as July 2002, US intel-
ligence agencies watched silently as US-gifted Pakistan Air Force’s C-
130 Hercules aircraft picked up missile parts from North Korea at the
height of India-Pakistan tensions amidst talk of the world’s first
26 James Dao, “US And China Resume High-Level Military Talks,” New York
Times, Dec. 10, 2002; Bill Gertz, “China’s Arms Sales, Stance on Taiwan Chill
Talks with US,” Wahington Times, Dec. 10, 2002, p. 7. Italics are my own emphasis.
27 Seymour M. Hersh, “The Cold Test,” New Yorker, Jan. 27, 2003.
28 David E. Sanger, “In North Korea and Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear
Barter,” New York Times, Nov. 23, 2002, p. 1.
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nuclear war in South Asia.29 Some analysts contend that “China is
complicit in this proliferation” because Pakistan could not have flown
a C-130 Hercules across China to North Korea without refueling at a
PLA air base in western China.30 Not only did Pakistan supply gas-
centrifuge designs and machinery for weapons’ construction, but a
Japanese Korean defector from North Korea, Kenki Aoyama, has
revealed that Pakistani engineers helped the North to fabricate bombs
intended to threaten South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and 100,000 US
troops in Northeast Asia.31 The New York Times quoted an American
official who reviewed the intelligence as saying that “North Korea’s
drive in the past year to begin full-scale enrichment of uranium uses
technology that has ‘Made in Pakistan’ stamped all over it.”32 Despite
protestations and denials by the Musharraf government, sections of
Pakistan’s nuclear establishment are suspected of helping not only
the North Koreans (who openly gloat over Pakistan’s tacit nuclear
proliferation) but Iraqis, Saudis, and Iranians as well. Pakistani nuclear
scientists are now considered the weakest link in the WMD prolifer-
ation chain. According to former assistant secretary of state for non-
proliferation in the Clinton administration, Robert Einhorn: “If the
international community had a proliferation most-wanted list, Dr. A.
Q. Khan would be most wanted on the list.”33 Washington’s appre-
hensions about Pakistani nuclear scientists are very similar to its long-
standing suspicions about the Russian scientists in the post-Soviet
collapse.34 However, the Bush administration has chosen not to
Mohan Malik 71
29 Islamabad’s “brazenness” in using US C-130 aircraft to transport the secret
payload that General Musharraf had personally assured President Bush in
2001 would be used primarily to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists has not gone
unnoticed in Washington’s policy circles, writes Sanger, “In North Korea and
Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear Barter.”
30 Chidanand Rajghatta, “India Imperiled by US Ignoring Pak-Korean ties,”
Times of India, Nov. 24, 2002, p. 1.
31 “Double-dealing,” Newssight.net, Nov. 8, 2002, available at http://www.indi-
areacts.com/fulldebate2.asp?recno=517.
32 Sanger, “In North Korea and Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear Barter.”
33 Los Angeles Times, Jan. 7, 2003, p. 1.
34 Pakistan has reportedly informed the US that a number of its scientists and
military officers were “personally” involved in providing technology related
primarily to uranium enrichment, and equipment design to North Korea,
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72 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
criticize Pakistan publicly or reimpose economic sanctions that were
lifted after September 11, for fear of destabilizing the weak Musharraf
government, whose support is vitally important in the War on Ter-
rorism.
Table 2. Pakistan’s Pyongyang Connection: The Barter Deal of the Century?
YEAR KEY DEVELOPMENTS
1991 Islamabad sought Pyongyang’s assistance in long-range missile tech-
nology to counter India’s testing of the Agni missile.
1992 DPRK Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Kim Yong-nam visited
Syria (July 27-30), Iran (July 30-August 3), and Pakistan (August 4-
7) to explore areas of bilateral cooperation.
Pakistan’s nuclear and missile scientist, Dr. A. Q. Khan, initiated talks
for purchase and transfer of 10-12 1,500-km range Nodong missiles
by Islamabad.
1993 Pakistani and Iranian missile scientists were present for the DPRK’s
Nodong missile test on May 29-30.
In December, Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutoo visited Beijing
and Pyongyang seeking long-range ballistic missiles capable of strik-
ing strategic targets within India.
1994 In April, a DPRK Foreign Ministry delegation headed by Pak Chung-
kuk traveled to Pakistan and Iran.
In September, another delegation led by Choe Hui-chong, chairman
of the State Commission of Science and Technology visited Pakistan.
1995 In November, a DPRK military delegation led by Marshal Choe
Kwang visited missile-related production facilities in Pakistan and
finalized the agreement on the transfer of about 12-25 Nodong
missiles with Dr. A. Q. Khan and Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad Khan, head of
the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
and have admitted receiving remittances worth “tens of thousands of dollars”
as “rewards from North Korea” over “a number of years,” Japanese news
agency Jiji Press said. “Pak informed US of nuclear technology transfer,” Jiji
Press (Tokyo), December 25, 2002. Manzur Ejaz, “Washington Diary: Pakistan
and Proliferation issue,” The News, Dec. 22, 2002; AFP, “Musharraf says no
barter with N. Korea,” Dawn, Jan. 13, 2003, p. 1; Anwar Iqbal, “Dr Qadeer
suspected of links with ‘axis of evil’ states,” Dawn, Jan. 8, 2003, p. 1.
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Mohan Malik 73
1996 Taiwan detained a North Korean ship Chusong for misdeclaration of
15 tonnes of ammonium perchlorate, a key missile fuel component
that was being shipped to Pakistan.
1997 – Dr A.Q. Khan made three secret visits to North Korea.
The Pakistan government began paying for Nodong missiles by
providing nuclear know-how.
1998 Pakistan test fired a Nodong missile renamed Ghauri on April 6,
prompting the US State Department to impose sanctions against
Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (CSC) and Pakistan’s Khan
Research Laboratories (KRL) on April 24. This is the second time that
the State Department had imposed sanctions against KRL. The first
time was during August 1993, after Pakistan’s acquisition of Chinese
DF-11/M-11 ballistic missiles.
One week after Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, Kim Sa-nae, wife of a
senior DPRK diplomat, was shot dead in Islamabad. Her husband,
Kang Thae-yunwho as economic counselor in the embassy worked
for Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (CSC)disappeared soon
afterwards. Both were close to Dr. A. Q. Khan. Media speculated that
either or both had planned to defect and reveal all.
1999 In June, India caught a North Korean ship bound for Pakistan loaded
with 300 tonnes of equipment and engineering drawings for estab-
lishing a plant to manufacture the 300-km range Hwasong 5 and the
500-plus-km range Hwasong 6, both derived from the Scud. The cargo
also had Chinese machine components, electrical connectors and nose-
cones for assembling missiles.
On September 16, in his Statement for the Record to the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee on Foreign Missile Developments and Ballistic Missile
Threat to the United States Through 2015, Robert Walpole, national intel-
ligence officer for Strategic and Nuclear Program, acknowledged that
Pakistan’s Ghauri missile was flight tested with North Korean assis-
tance.
2000 In October, Pakistani and North Korean nuclear and metallurgical
scientists observed the mating of miniaturized nuclear warheads and
missile systems at China’s Lop Nor nuclear facility in Xinjiang
province.
2001 – Dr. A.Q. Khan made two trips to North Korea.
A three-member team from Pakistan arrived to work with their North
Korean counterparts for six months. Pakistan reportedly shared data
from its 1998 nuclear tests with Pyongyang.
In May, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that
Washington has “concerns of proliferation” with Pakistan, centering
on “people who were employed by the nuclear agency and have
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74 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
retired.” Armitage’s comment coincided with a week-long visit to
Pakistan by the commander of the North Korean Air Force, Colonel-
General O Kum-chol, a frequent visitor to Islamabad.
2002 The National Intelligence Estimate, released in January, claimed that
“North Korean willingness to sell complete systems and components
has enabled other states to acquire longer range capabilities earlier
than otherwise would have been possible – notably the sale of the
Nodong MRBM to Pakistan.”
In July, US satellites spotted a US-gifted Pakistani C-130 Hercules
picking up missile parts from North Korea at the height of India-
Pakistan tensions.
Islamabad dispatched 47 tonnes of special aluminum (which was
acquired by KRL from a British firm in Blackburn) to Pyongyang on
board a Shaheen Airline flight for its uranium enrichment program.
In October, US officials publicly confirmed that Islamabad provided
gas centrifuges for Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program, in
return for North Korea’s supply of Nodong missiles to Pakistan (New
York Times and Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2002).
On December 29, Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun reported that a
sample gas centrifuge used to enrich uranium necessary to produce
nuclear weapons was transported by special flight from Islamabad
in the coffin of the murdered wife of a North Korean diplomat in
June 1998.
Sources: Information in the above table is based on S. M. Hersh, “The Cold Test,” The
New Yorker, Jan. 27, 2003; “US confronts Pakistan with N. Korea “smoking gun’,”
Newsinsight.com, Jan. 17, 2003, available at http://www.intelligenceonline.net/
allintelligencefull.asp?id=9365933019391&recno=1681; E. Ahrari, “Pakistan as
proliferator: A view from Washington,” Asia Times online, Jan. 14, 2003, available
at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/EA14Df03.html; Malik, “China
and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime”; J. S. Bermudez Jr, The Armed Forces
of North Korea (London & New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2001), pp. 270–271;
S. Gupta, “Unholy Nexus,” India Today, Nov. 4, 2002, pp. 22–23; “Pak informed
US of nuclear technology transfer,” Jiji Press (Tokyo), Dec. 25, 2002; “China in
Pak-N.Korea nuclear axis,” Newsinsight.net, Oct. 19, 2002; Los Angeles Times, Jan.
7, 2003; “Double-dealing,” Newssight.net, Nov. 8, 2002, available at http://www.
indiareacts.com/fulldebate2.asp?recno=517; A. Foster-Carter, “Nukes and Missiles:
the Pakistan connection,” Asia Times online, June 5, 2001, available at
http://atimes.com/koreas/CF05Dg02. html; PTI, “Pak sent N- material to N Korea
in July: Report,” Times of India, Dec. 7, 2002; D. E. Sanger, “In North Korea and
Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear Barter,” New York Times, Nov. 23, 2002, p. 1.
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The Proliferation Chain
Even more worrying are the reports of the technological links of
China, North Korea and Pakistan with nuclear aspirantsIran, Iraq,
Libya, and Saudi Arabia. Chinese (and Russian) technicians have
assisted Iran in constructing a uranium plant near Esfahan and with
other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, such as uranium mining and
processing and fuel fabrication. During the US-China summit in Octo-
ber 1997, China pledged in a confidential agreement to forego future
nuclear cooperation with Iran (but not missile cooperation). China has
also provided Iran with nuclear-capable ballistic missiles35 (M-11 and
M-9),36 missile components, and chemicals useful in making nerve
gas.37 China has reportedly “sold Iran 400 tons of chemical agents,
giving it the largest chemical weapons stockpile of any Third World
country.”38 In December 2002, Iran’s President Khatami visited
Pakistan and both sides agreed to bury their hatchet from the days
of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and promote better relations
between the two Islamic nations. The Iranians are perhaps hoping
that Pakistan will facilitate Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons pro-
gram as it did North Korea’s. The South Korean newspaper, JoongAng
Ilbo, reported on Dec. 19, 2002 that Seoul had tracked shipments of
weaponry from North Korea to Iran in 2002. An Iranian freighter
Mohan Malik 75
35 Representative T. Lantos, “Chinese Ballistic Missile Sales,” Statement before
the Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations, and
Human Rights, House Foreign Affairs Committee, May 20, 1993, p. 4; Senate
Hearings on “Weapons Proliferation in China,” International Security, Pro-
liferation and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental
Affairs Committee, April 10, 1997; B. Gertz, “China Sold Iran Missile Tech-
nology,” Washington Times, Nov. 21, 1996, p. A1. China has transferred short-
range CSS-8 ballistic missiles to Iran.
36 B. Opall, “US Queries China on Iran: Fears Transfer of Missile Technology,”
Defense News, June 19–25, 1995, p. 1.
37 R. Einhorn, deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, Testimony
before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Inter-
national Security, reported in “State Dept. Revises Report on China’s Arms
Sales to Iran,” Washington Times, April 15, 1997, p. A3.
38 M. Yost, “China’s Deadly Trade in the Mideast,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4,
1996, p. A18.
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76 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
IRAN MEEAD visited the North Korean harbors of Nampo and
Songnim multiple times in February and November 2002, where it
loaded missiles and rocket fuel destined for Iran. Before calling at the
North Korean harbors, the Iranian ship reportedly stopped at China’s
Tianjin harbor and loaded missile components and Chinese-made
heat-seekers. The JoongAng Ilbo revelation provided further evidence
of North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities and military-
commercial ties to Iran, while raising concern about China’s cooper-
ation on North Korea’s weapons program.39 That same week, US and
Spanish forces intercepted and then released a Yemen-bound North
Korean vessel also carrying Scud missiles.
A memorandum found by UN inspectors, sent by Section B15 of
Iraqi intelligence to Section S15 of Iraq’s nuclear weapons directorate,
was explicit in stating that Baghdad had received a proposal from
“Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to help Iraq manufacture
a nuclear weapon.” Iraq admitted to the UN inspection regime that
Khan made the offer, but insisted that it turned it down for fear it
was a US sting operation. Pakistan, for its part, denied that Khan
ever made the offer. Scouring for evidence of Iraq’s clandestine WMD
program, the United States has stumbled on massive China-Libya
links in the construction of Libya’s long-range ballistic missiles that
can target US forces and interests in the Mediterranean and the Mid-
dle East, especially Israel. US intelligence agencies have now discov-
ered that China has helped Libya construct two nuclear-capable
IRBMs, called al-Fatah, with ranges of 1,000-1,500 kilometers and 3,500-
4,500 kilometersand indicate the role of a shadowy Singapore-based
Libyan chemical and metals import-export company called al-Marwa.40
Since 1994, there have been intelligence reports of Saudi Arabian fund-
ing for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program purchases from
China.41 Prior to September 11, General Musharraf reportedly had
39 Kim Min-seok, Oh Young-hwan, “Iran Said to be Buyer of North Missiles,”
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 19, 2002, available at http://english.joins.com/Article.asp?
aid=20021219024551&sid=200.
40 “US Finds China-Libya Missile Link,” Newsinsight.net, Dec. 20, 2002, available
at http://www.intelligenceonline.net/allintelligencefull.asp?id=04046020410422
&recno=1610.
41 In May 1999, following the Pakistani nuclear tests, Prince Sultan toured the
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reached an understanding on sharing nuclear technology with Prince
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. In return for liberal financial assistance
from Riyadh, bankrupt Islamabad was also expected to provide
medium-range solid-fueled Chinese M-11s or Ghauri missiles which
would have replaced 30 Dong Feng-3 medium-range ballistic missiles
that Saudi Arabia had bought from China in 1988 and were nearing
the end of their operational life. Stephen Blank succinctly sums up
the nature of the proliferation challenge emanating from the Beijing-
Islamabad-Pyongyang axis:
…the Pakistani-North Korea relationship perfectly epitomizes the
phenomenon known as tertiary proliferation, whereby newly
nuclear states or new aspirants to that status assist each other, and
by doing so obtain technological, military, or financial, as well as
political benefits from their relationship. It may also be the case that
Pakistan acts as a middleman for a third party, in this case China,
that does not want its shipments to North Korea [and other coun-
tries] to be directly traceable.42
The Proliferation Axis: Objectives, Motivations and Interests
China Pursuing Containment through Surrogates43
Of all the nuclear weapon states, China has perfected the art of
proliferation of clandestine nuclear and missile technology transfers
Mohan Malik 77
uranium-enrichment plant and missile production facilities at Kahuta. “If
Riyadh’s influence over Pakistan extends to its nuclear programs, Saudi
Arabia could rapidly become a de facto nuclear power through a simple
shipment of missiles and warheads,” writes Thomas Woodrow, “The Sino-
Saudi Connection,” China Brief, Volume 2, Issue 21 (Oct. 24, 2002), available
at htm” http://china.jamestown.org/pubs/view/cwe_002_021_003.htm.
42 Stephen Blank, “Pakistan Bent on Proliferation Path,” Asia Times online, Jan.
3, 2003, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/EA03Df01.
html.
43 On the enduring interest in not provoking others while China remains weak,
see Wang Sheng, “‘Taoguang yanghui’ bu shi quan yi zhi ji,” [‘Concealing
one’s strength and biding one’s time’ is not a stopgap], Huanqiu shibao [Global
Times], Aug. 17, 2001. Also see Mohan Malik, “China’s Asia Policy: Restrain
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78 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
as a tool of Chinese national security policy. Increasingly, Chinese
assistance takes the form of technology transfer or exports through
third parties and missile parts and nuclear components as opposed
to complete weapons systems. Evidence shows that Beijing has either
paid lip service to the non-proliferation objectives or made only those
concessions absolutely essential to (a) mend fences with the West, and
(b) to secure access to advanced technology but without accepting
terms which would constrain its security policy options or restrict
China’s nuclear and missile exports. This ambivalence has been
accompanied by deliberate attempts to exploit the grey areas (“dif-
ferences of interpretation” as in the Missile Technology Control
Regime case), ad hoc decision-making, based on mixed or contradic-
tory policy preferences and poor export controls. This stance also
reflects the tension between being a status quoist power in terms of
nuclear weapons capability and non-status quoist power in terms of
a rising global great power. The apparent contradiction can best be
understood as an outcome of China’s tendency to use “the prolifer-
ation card” by exploiting loopholes in the non-proliferation regime
and contradictions in major power relationships so as to serve its
broader national security objectives.44 To the extent that the United
States, Japan and India are preoccupied with dangers posed by
Chinese-supplied conventional and unconventional weaponry in the
hands of the mullahs of Iran, the Saddams of Iraq, Kim Jong Ils of
North Korea and the military rulers of Pakistan, those nations are
distracted from the threat China itself posesor at least be less capa-
ble of dealing with it.
First and foremost is the Chinese strategic objective of limiting
US dominance worldwide and to counter any moves aimed at the
consolidation or enlargement of the US alliance network in the Asia-
Pacific. Asia’s rising superpower, China, has long viewed the world’s
Japan, Contain India,” Japan Times, June 12, 1999, p. 21; Malik, “China plays
‘the proliferation card’”; T. Henriksen and C. Walker, “Seeking Surrogates
To Challenge The US,” Global Beat Syndicate, April 25, 2001, available at
http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/Walker042501.html.
44 On taking advantage of the contradictions that exist between these coun-
tries, see Hu Yumin, “The US Post-Cold War Nonproliferation Policy,” Inter-
national Strategic Studies, No. 3 (July 1999), p. 54.
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reigning superpower, the United States, as its major global strategic
rival that needs to be contained and balanced.45 The Bush adminis-
tration’s national security strategy statements have repeatedly warned
China that the United States is determined to prevent it from acquir-
ing military forces that in any way seriously challenge those of the
United States. From China’s perspective, WMD poliferation serves to
limit US policy options in Asia and constrains its global ambitions.
In 1999, the head of Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control and
Disarmament Division, Sha Zukang, had warned that should the
United States go ahead with its missile defense program, Washington
would “confront a nightmare scenario of nuclear proliferation” and
that there would be so many fires around the world that the United
States would get exhausted putting out these fires. He did not elab-
orate as to who will start those fires.46
Whenever bilateral relations between China and the United States
have deteriorated over issues such as Taiwan, missile defense plans,
human rights and religious freedom, Beijing has retaliated by peddling
nuclear and missile technologies to countries hostile to the United
States and its allies. As noted earlier, North Korea is also a conduit
through which Chinese nuclear and missile technology has been fed
to Iran and Iraqcountries that see the United States as their present
and future enemy. The United Nations inspectors dismantling the
Iraqi nuclear program after Desert Storm found evidence that the plan
for Iraq’s nuclear bomb was a Chinese design provided by Pakistan.
Post-1991 Gulf War, China made a strategic decision to move closer
to Iran and to build up its defenses as a counterweight to US influ-
ence in the Middle East. From China’s perspective, the emergence of
additional power centers, albeit far from its borders (for example, Iran
in the Middle East), will provide a valuable US hostage and preoc-
cupy the United States, leaving South and Southeast Asia to be dom-
inated by China’s growing might. In China’s strategic calculations,
faced with two or three regional crises simultaneously, the United
Mohan Malik 79
45 John Hill, “China Offended by US ‘Threat’ Theory,” JIR, Sept. 2002.
46 Sha Zukang’s remarks at a conference in Beijing, Sept. 1999; Eric Eckholm,
“China Says US Missile Shield Could Force an Arms Buildup,” New York
Times, May 11, 2000, p. 1.
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80 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
States would have to choose which one is more important for its
national security interests, leaving the other to China to sort out.
Second, and a related strategic objective, is to ensure China’s pre-
eminent position in the Asia-Pacific region by “restraining Japan and
containing India.”47 China’s assistance to the nuclear and missile pro-
grams of North Korea and Pakistan has thus been largely motivated
by the imperative of Beijing’s Asia policy to balance its regional rivals.
Since China is effectively checkmated in East Asia by three great
powersthe United States, Japan and Russia, Beijing has long seen
South and Southeast Asia as its sphere of influence and India as the
main obstacle to achieving its strategic objective of regional supremacy
in Southern Asia. Since the end of the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Beijing
has come to rely on its “all-weather friend,” Pakistan, to contain their
common enemyIndiaand repeatedly broken its promises to halt
clandestine strategic transfers to Pakistan in violation of NPT Article
I obligations.48 As for Japan, China’s East Asian rival is constrained
by its Peace Constitution and the World War II legacy to acquire a
full spectrum of military capability befitting of an independent power
or a “normal” nation.
To take the heat off its proliferation activities, Beijing has encour-
aged its military allies, Islamabad and Pyongyang, to establish closer
nuclear and missile cooperation links since the early 1990s.49 As per
Sun Tzu’s advice of “subduing the enemy without fighting,” China
has played a double game in South Asia and Northeast Asia, having
earlier contributed to their destabilization by transferring nuclear and
missile technologies to its allies (Pakistan and North Korea) and later
offering to help contain the problem of nuclear/missile proliferation
in South Asia and on the Korean Peninsula. Such tactics have but-
tressed the point that China’s “centrality” in regional security issues
47 For details, see Malik, “China’s Asia Policy: Restrain Japan, Contain India.”
48 Privately, Chinese strategists justify this on the grounds that all NWSs have
helped at least one allied state to go nuclear: for example, the US helped
Britain, the Soviets helped China, the French and the Americans helped Israel.
49 “China Might be Pitting North Korea Against Japan in the Same Way As It
is Pitting Pakistan Against India.” T. Delpech, “Nuclear Weapons and the
‘New World Order’: Early Warning from Asia?” Survival, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Win-
ter 1998–99), p. 65.
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must be recognized as essential to their resolution. In other words,
WMD proliferation has afforded Beijing the unique opportunity to
successfully play the dual role of a troublemaker and troubleshooter
in South Asia and Northeast Asia. Such a strategy not only obviates
the need for China to pose a direct threat to Japan or India but also
allows Beijing to wield its prestige as a disinterested, responsible
global nuclear power while playing the role of an impartial, regional
arbiter.
Yet another motivation is China’s strategic need to build a net-
work of close allies (North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and Burma) because
“all great powers have strong allies.” Just as the United States can
count on the support of its allies (Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan,
and the UK) in times of crisis, so the argument goes, China also needs
the support of strong allies to secure its interests, particularly in Asia.50
By building up the military capabilities of allies such as Pakistan,
North Korea, and Iran, Beijing seeks to tie down its rivals (India,
Japan, and the United States) in their respective regions with multi-
ple security concerns. Alastair Johnston argues that a crucial means
of “victory without bloodshed” (bing bu xue ren) in Chinese strategic
tradition is to intimidate the hostile country into capitulation through
provocation, brinkmanship, coercion and shift in the balance-of-power.
The objective is to convince the enemy, who is militarily weak and/or
tied down with multiple security concerns, that the military situation
has shifted to his disadvantage and thus to force him to concede.51
This is evident in the manner in which Chinese-supplied long-range
missiles with nuclear capability have been repeatedly brandished by
both Islamabad and Pyongyang for coercion and blackmail vis-à-vis
India and Japan/the United States. For the past decade, the United
States, as well as South Korea, Japan and India, have sought to
improve relations with China, North Korea and Pakistan. However,
Mohan Malik 81
50 Conversation with Yu Changsen, April 7, 1999. On partnerships as “quasi-
alliances,” see Ye Zicheng, “Zhongguo shixing daguo waijiao zhanlue shiza-
ibixing” [The imperative for China to implement a great power diplomatic
strategy], Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi [World Economics and Politics], No. 1,
(2000), pp. 5–10.
51 Alastair I. Johnston, China and Arms Control, Aurora Papers 3 (The Canadian
Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, 1986), p. 13.
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82 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
their efforts have been repaid with systematic violation of every non-
proliferation agreement and commitment Beijing and its allies have
signed and clandestine efforts to increase their nuclear weapons
capabilities.
In addition to the strategic considerations of countervailing
China’s rivals and gaining allies, Beijing’s nuclear and missile transfers
have also been motivated by the need to secure access to critical
energy resources, advanced military technology and diplomatic
leverage. For example, a major reason behind Israel’s high-tech arms
sales to China has been the need to neutralize Beijing’s strong support
for Arab states and the fear of Beijing’s retaliation by means of supply
of nuclear and missile technology to Muslim countries hostile to the
Jewish state.52 It was not a coincidence that reports of Chinese assis-
tance to Libya’s long-range missile program appeared at the time of
intense US pressure on Israel to cancel a $2 billion deal to sell air-
borne military radar (similar to the US AWACS system) to Beijing
that would diminish Taiwan’s air superiority. “We don’t want to have
China hostile to Israel,” cautioned an Israeli official, noting that Beijing
would send arms to the region, which could harm both American
and Israeli interests.53 Israel’s recent announcement of suspension of
all contracts on the export of military equipment to China, following
some arm-twisting by the Bush administration, is likely to make
Beijing retaliate by stepping up WMD proliferation to Israel’s Islamic
neighbors.54 Likewise, sporadic reports of Chinese nuclear collabora-
tion with Algeria are aimed at ensuring that the French remain on
China’s side.
While some transactions may be purely commercial ventures dic-
52 See “China Silent on Whether Iran Nuclear Sale Shelved,” Reuters wire story,
August 26, 1997. On Nov. 28, 1999, Ehud Barak told the Chinese leader Li
Peng that Israel was concerned about China’s continuing sales of arms to
Iran and reminded him of “China’s important decision of 1997” to cease
such transfers.
53 Ben Barber, “Israel Doesn’t Want US Ire over China,” Washington Times, April
14, 2000, p. 1.
54 Bill Gertz, “Israel Asked to Stop Arms Sales to China,” Washington Times,
Jan. 3, 2003, p. 1; “US finds China-Libya Missile Link,” Newsinsight.net, Dec.
20, 2002, available at http://www.intelligenceonline.net/World.asp?id=
363343313604&recno=1610&sub=General.
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tated by China’s ever-growing energy needs (e.g., the sale of CSS-2
intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) to Saudi Arabia for US$
3 billions), most are meant as leverage or a bargaining chip to extract
concessions in the form of military assistance or diplomatic influence
and to contain Beijing’s rivals. The end of the triangular (US-USSR-
PRC) diplomacy of the Cold War years has seen China increasingly
playing “the proliferation card” primarily because, unlike the West,
Beijing cannot use international financial institutions, such as the Inter-
national Monetary Fund and World Bank, or the G-8 clout to bring
about desired changes in the behavior or policies of other states. For
example, Beijing has always linked its nuclear and missile transfers
with curbs on US arms transfers to Taiwan and US missile defense
plans.55 In short, Beijing has increasingly come to rely on WMD pro-
liferation and non-cooperation on arms control issues to get what it
wants.
Notwithstanding Beijing’s rhetoric of peace and development,
China’s strategic posture is based on the realist paradigm of “com-
prehensive national power” with which it seeks to defend itself and
intimidate, aggrandize, and support the enemies of its enemies. It is
for this reason that China has been called “the high church of realpoli-
tik.”56 The end result is that China stands out amongst first-tier NWS
for its consistent and deliberate use of WMD proliferation as an instru-
ment to advance its grand strategic goals. The roots of Beijing’s “con-
tainment through proxies” strategy can also be traced to the classic
strategic principle of “make the barbarians fight while you watch
from the mountain top” (zuo shan guan hu dou). This strategy has the
additional benefit of plausible deniability. And it undercuts Asian
rivals’ ambitions to emerge as China’s peer competitor and under-
mines the US influence and presence in Asia. It certainly fits into the
pattern of past Chinese behavior. Beijing’s customary denials notwith-
standing, China’s pursuit of grand strategic objectives leads it to
undermine the non-proliferation regime.
Mohan Malik 83
55 On China’s attempts to link non-proliferation issues to the US arms sales to
Taiwan, see Shirley A. Kan, “Chinese Proliferation of Weapons of Mass
Destruction,” CRS Issue Brief 92056, Current Policy Issues, June 1, 1998.
56 Thomas J. Christensen, “Chinese Realpolitik,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 5
(Sept./Oct. 1996), p. 37.
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84 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
North Korea Seeking Regime Survival
Several major developments post-Cold War and the collapse of
the Soviet Union, such as the establishment of diplomatic ties by
Moscow and Beijing with Seoul and the lessons drawn from the Gulf
War and the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, contributed to a North Korean
perception that its very existence was threatened and that its survival
hinged upon the acquisition of nuclear weapons which could be used
as a bargaining chip to ensure regime survival. Whilst Washington
remained committed to South Korea’s defense, North Korea was no
longer sure of any security guarantees from its former patrons (Russia
and China). Nuclear weapons thus came to be seen by North Korea
as the spanners that the world’s sole Stalinist regime could poke in
the wheels of history to slow down, if not altogether stop, its march.
Furthermore, much like Pyongyang’s sales of ballistic missiles to
Islamic countries, nuclear technology transfer had enormous potential
as a foreign exchange earner, thereby reducing the need to look toward
“imperialist forces” for aid. Diplomatically, the nuclear card increases
North Korea’s bargaining power in the reunification negotiations with
the South and gives it more room for maneuver in its normalization
of relations talks with Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. The nuclear
shield also helps the world’s most hardline communist regime retain
an iron grip over the 21st century’s only Orwellian state, and show
a Stalinist-like resolve to quarantine the country from external polit-
ical, cultural and economic influences. North Korea’s primal fear that
it would either be absorbed by the economic might of the South, or
squeezed by the military might of the United States unless it possesses
nuclear weapons means that Pyongyang will not give them up – no
matter how many and what agreements it enters into with the United
States and other countries. Many in Pyongyang look to emulate India
and Pakistan, recent nuclear weapons states, and they may see the
current crisis as their last chance.
Pakistan Seeking Parity with India
Pakistan’s quest for parity with a much larger India, the Kashmir
dispute, and the history of three wars have made Islamabad highly
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conscious of its strategic vulnerability. Since the end of the 1971 war,
which led to the dismemberment of the Pakistani state, nuclear
weapons have come to be seen as a great equalizer to neutralize
India’s superior conventional capability. From Islamabad’s perspec-
tive, Pakistan’s friendship with the United States has always been
one-sided, driven primarily by American security concerns at a given
time. In contrast, China has proven to be a consistent and steadfast
ally and a military partner over the last five decades. The growing
power imbalance between an economically booming, secular, demo-
cratic and increasingly assertive India and a politically dysfunctional,
economically bankrupt, insecure and failing Pakistan during the 1990s
further added to Islamabad’s sense of insecurity and vulnerability. In
this sense, Pakistan’s predicament vis-à-vis India was not much
different from that of North Korea’s vis-à-vis South Korea.
China’s Allies: Beijing’s Blowback
The preceding section illustrated how Beijing’s search for allies
to counter US global hegemony and its Asian rivals (India and Japan)
has led China into dangerous liaisons with the proliferators of WMD
and into the arms of dictators from North Korea to Iraq. Being a
permanent member of the UN Security Council and a signatory to
nuclear proliferation and missile technology control regimes since the
early 1990s, China has used Pakistan and North Korea as fronts in
the nuclear and missile trade. North Korea and Pakistan are widely
seen as “China’s problem children” that would not survive a day
without the Chinese life-support system. Both are indeed kept afloat
largely by liberal Chinese economic assistance and diplomatic and
military support. China alone accounts for 70 percent to 90 percent
of North Korea’s fuel imports and about a third of all grain imports.
Much like Pakistan, North Korea has been working on developing
nuclear weapons and their delivery systems for at least three decades.
Much like China, North Korea has agreed to abide by non-prolifera-
tion treaties and other agreements over the last two decades, but has
felt no compunction in violating them if doing so undermined the
security of its perceived enemies. In fact, both China and North Korea
Mohan Malik 85
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86 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
have used episodic violation as a tool of national security policy,
periodically “upping the ante” to produce fresh agreements and fresh
economic and technological aid from their neighbors, and the United
States.57
Much like an individual, a country is also known by the com-
pany it keeps. North Korea and Pakistan are both militarist regimes,
weak and failing states that have initiated military conflicts against
their neighbors. Pyongyang and Islamabad also have a penchant for
engaging in a game of brinkmanship, belligerence, nuclear blackmail
and coercion to change the territorial status-quo (at times with support
from Beijing). Both have a history of using nuclear threats, bluffs,
military provocations and belligerence to extract concessions from
their neighbors and major powers. While Pakistan threatens a 1000-
year war with India, North Korea threatens “1000-fold revenge” if
the United States does not concede to its demands. Interestingly, both
talk of waging “holy war” against their enemies: though one is an
Islamic country and another an officially atheist communist country.
Both seem to subscribe to “the madman theory of international rela-
tions”: the more unpredictable, more irrational, and more dangerous
you seem, the more concessions would come your way. Under-
standably, the leaders of tottering, fragile countries need to boost their
self-confidence with an occasional show of bravado. Adding to the
alarm over North Korea’s recent admission of nuclear capability was
Pakistan President Musharraf’s assertion that he was ready to use
nukes during heightened tensions with India in May 2002. If anything,
Parvez Musharraf and Kim Jong Il’s nuclear threats reaffirm a widely
held notion that nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable, authori-
tarian and failing states spell nothing but trouble.
Pakistan and North Korea also form a different class of prolifer-
ators: both are impoverished states that see their weapons of mass
destruction as their only bargaining chips. Pakistan is, in the words
of former Italian foreign minister Gianni De Michelis, “the fuse of the
world.”58 For its part, North Korea seems to suffer from the Attention
57 Michael Kelly, “Kick the (Korea) Can,” Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2003, p. 19.
58 F. Sisci, “Mega-NATO: China out in the cold.” Asia Times online, May 24, 2002,
available at http://www.atimes.com/china/DE24Ad01.html; E. Neuffer, “A
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Deficit Disorder syndrome. Long-time North Korea-watchers liken the
insular, enigmatic country to a petulant child, demanding attention
from the West by threatening to resume its suspended effort to devel-
op nuclear weapons. Both have pursued the strategy of negotiation
initiation through escalation – Pakistan via cross-border terrorism and
North Korea via WMD proliferation. If any country is ever going to
use nuclear weapons, it would be either Pakistan or North Korea. A
sinking regime in Pyongyang or Islamabad would not think twice
about threatening its neighbors. The similarities between the two are
indeed stark. While India and South Korea have long worried about
their perennially difficult neighbors, it is now the turn of Japan, the
United States, Russia and, above all, China to worry about the
consequences of the Pakistan-North Korea nexus. Having helped
Pakistan (directly) and North Korea (indirectly) to cross the nuclear
threshold and equip them with long-range missiles to lob at China’s
enemies, Beijing is obviously hoist on its own petard. As so often
happens in international politics, erstwhile clients and yesterday’s
friends have gradually developed their own agendas and interests
and started biting the hands that fed them.
Apparently, China’s attempts to play “the proliferation card” have
backfired, revealing a tension between Beijing’s two broad policy
options: one tends to push China toward supporting non-prolifera-
tion for its own self-interested reasons, whereas the other, by accept-
ing the inevitability of nuclear and missile proliferation, would have
China steer this process in a way beneficial to its security interests
(e.g., by providing nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, North
Korea, and Iran). Though evidence is sketchy, it may be said that
China’s foreign policy establishment has supported the first option
while the country’s military establishment lent support to the second
option for long-term geostrategic objectives. This tension between two
contradictory policies has led Beijing to make several tactical about-
turns on the proliferation issue, and reflects the uncertain nature of
Mohan Malik 87
US Concern: Pakistan’s Arsenal,” Boston Globe, Aug. 16, 2002, p. 1. “Pakistan
is the New Afghanistan, a Privileged Sanctuary for Hundreds of al-Qaeda
Fighters and Taliban Operatives.” A. de Borchgrave, “The New Afghanistan,”
Washington Times, Sept. 2, 2002, p. 1.
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88 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
China’s nuclear arms control policy.
A rational cost-benefit analysis shows that Beijing’s strategy of
“containment through surrogates” has started yielding diminishing
returns because China’s long-term foreign policy objectives now clash
with the imperatives of alliance relationships. The “War on Terrorism”
has provided Beijing with the opportunity to join the world’s lead-
ing responsible nations rather than to be cast with the same dye as
rogue nations. In other words, they would prefer to be on “the right
side of history.” On the positive side, the present global strategic
environment has created a win-win situation for China, despite its
violation of the nuclear and missile proliferation regimes. The North
Korean brinkmanship has exposed the sole superpower as a “paper
tiger,” driven a wedge between the United States and South Korea,
demonstrated the hollowness of the Bush administration’s strategy of
preemption, and inadequacy of the “two simultaneous wars” doctrine,
and above all, has made a mockery of President Bush’s zero-tolerance
policy toward rogue states acquiring weapons of mass destruction. It
also ensures the survival of the Kim regime and further progress on
the reunification question on Pyongyang’s terms. Moreover, Pyongyang’s
challenge diverts Washington’s attention from the war on Iraq and
raises the specter of tying the United States down in a number of
theaters, thus turning its attention away from “the China threat.” It
is worth remembering that the Bush administration came to power
proclaiming its intention to take a tough stand on the challenge posed
by China and its “nuclear proxies” to both the United States and its
regional allies. Jane’s Intelligence Digest outlines how Washington has
lost its focus and reordered priorities post-9/11:
The Bush administration’s major policy decisions to establish missile
defense systems; the building of closer strategic ties with India and
the re-enforcement of support for its regional allies Japan and South
Korea were designed to meet the challenge of the emerging axis in
Asia. However, amid current US requirements for Chinese and
Pakistani support in its War on Terrorism, the Bush administration
has slowed down, at least for the time being, its strategic offensive
against the China-led nuclear axis in Asia.59
59 “Asia’s Nuclear Axis,” Jane’s Intelligence Digest, Nov. 6, 2002.
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The proliferation and terrorism crises have allowed China to be
courted by Washington because of its veto in the UN Security Council.
Beijing has also gained influence in South Korea and repositioned
itself as an impartial arbiter in the Korean conflict. Always keen to
exploit contradictions among their friends and enemies so as to further
China’s national interests, the Chinese could play the Korean card in
Sino-Japanese, Sino-Korean, and Sino-American relations to their
advantage. Despite the post-September 11 improvement in Sino-US
ties, Beijing has watched with concern the ever-increasing US presence
and influence all along China’s periphery in Asia and will be tempted
to use the Korean nuclear crisis to extract concessions from Washington
in return for pressure, real or imagined, on Pyongyang. In a way, this
crisis “foreshadows an eventual power struggle between the United
States and China over the Korean Peninsula and the future of the
alliance after Korean unification.”60 China’s stance that the only
realistic way to resolve the North Korean crisis peacefully is the
signing of a non-aggression treaty between North Korea and the
United States, is aimed at maintaining the status quo, which invariably
gives Beijing a strategic advantage in the region. Although it rails
constantly against the crime of a nation divided in the case of itself
and Taiwan, China is content with a North Korean buffer state
between itself and East Asia’s two biggest US allies (South Korea and
Japan), and is working to preserve the Peninsula’s effective division.61
Furthermore, Beijing has tried to allay Washington’s concerns about
Chinese transfers of nuclear and missile technology, and made new
Mohan Malik 89
60 Yoichi Funabashi, “A Critical Test for Japan’s Diplomacy,” PacNet 2, Jan. 9,
2003.
61 “China doesn’t want reunified Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, 2002, p. 1. China
worries about three kinds of crises once the two Koreas reunify: an emergence
of a unified democratic government and the rise of Korean nationalism, a
continued US military presence on the peninsula, and Japan’s rearming. From
a geopolitical point of view, Russia also prefers a divided Korea to one allied
with the US or China. As for the US, it favors the unification of Korea and
the end of nuclear proliferation but in a manner that does not destabilize
Northeast Asia and reduce its military presence and influence. South Kore-
ans, for their part, seem to resent American meddling more than anything
else. They want one unified Korea, and many would not mind if a unified
Korea inherits the North’s nuclear weapons.
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90 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
commitments to nuclear non-proliferation goals.
Against these short-term benefits, however, are several long-term
costs. On the negative side, since nearly all of China’s allies happen
to be weak and failing states (North Korea, Burma, Pakistan), Beijing
needs to rethink its alliances. Once close ideological allies, China and
North Korea have grown apart over the past two decadesChina
reforming its state-planned economy and integrating into the global
community, and North Korea sliding into economic stagnation and
political isolation.62 Likewise, China has advised Pakistan since the
mid-1990s against embarking on military misadventures and flirting
with terrorism and religious extremism to further its geopolitical
interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Chinese know that weak
and unstable Pakistan and North Korea can hardly contribute to
China’s strategic strength; they can only detract from China’s strategic
strength. Since China has been the North’s most crucial benefactor, it
is now being called upon to take the lead in taming a monster largely
of its own making. But Beijing wields far less influence with North
Korea than in years past.63
Neither “tailored containment” nor “bold dialogue” can succeed
without China’s cooperation and support. China is, however, less
worried about a nuclearized North Korea than a collapsing North
Korea following a possible economic-strangulation strategy. Nor does
China want to see any action that undermines North Korea’s ongoing
economic reforms because that creates renewed problems with North
Korean refugees, an issue that perpetually embarrasses Beijing.
Already North Korean refugees by the thousands have poured into
northeastern Chinaa region of high and rising unemployment and
increasing worker unrest. At the same time, China has a lot to fear
from economic unrest in North Korea and so resists any further tight-
62 Antonaeta Bezlova, “Beijing’s Influence on North Korea Overstated,” Asia
Times online, Jan. 11, 2003, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/
China/EA11Ad06.html.
63 Beijing-Pyongyang relations were further strained in 2002 when Beijing
arrested a Chinese-born businessman picked by Kim Jong-Il to run a special
economic zone on the Sino-North Korean border and Pyongyang acknowl-
edged a nuclear weapons program on the eve of the Bush-Jiang Summit in
late Oct. 2002.
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ening of economic sanctions.64 Despite a recent souring of relations
with Pyongyang, Chinese propaganda continues to describe North
Korea and China as being as close as “lips and teeth.” Apparently,
Beijing dreads the prospect of a chaotic collapse of the Kim Jong-Il
regime like that in Erich Honecker’s East Germany or Nicolae Ceaus-
escu’s Romania which could extend US power right up to the Yalu
and Tumen rivers. China does not want to see another Asian com-
munist system fall apart, and prefers to be surrounded by as many
small, weak buffer states as possible. If they are run by corrupt, inse-
cure dictatorships (such as North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, Kazakhstan)
where the military is paranoid of its neighbors, thus remaining heav-
ily dependent on China for weapons, training, and support, that is
even better.65 Unfortunately for Beijing, North Korea and Pakistan,
where China has made deep strategic and economic investments over
the decades, are fast becoming liabilities, rather than strategic assets.
A related cost is the likely deterioration in US-China ties if Beijing
is seen as unable or unwilling to live up to high expectations in the
Bush administration. Serious differences have emerged between Beijing
and Washington on the ways and means of dealing with the Kim
Jong-Il regime. While Jiang Zemin publicly voiced his desire for a
nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, China’s state-run media carried
commentaries that blamed Washington’s “hostile foreign policy” and
pointed the finger at Bush’s “Axis-of-Evil” doctrine as the main culprit
for the nuclear standoff: “North Korea’s unexpected revelation that it
possesses a nuclear program is a natural response to the hawkish
foreign policy of the US government since George W. Bush became
the President,” said a People’s Daily commentary on Oct. 25, 2002. An
opinion piece in the Communist Party’s newspaper in early January
2003 said that since the United States does not dare fight North Korea,
Mohan Malik 91
64 Ironically, China now finds itself in the same predicament vis-à-vis North
Korea that Pakistan was confronted with post-9/11 when Islamabad came
under external pressure to abandon its pro-Taliban policy and stop all food
and fuel supplies to Afghanistan. Much like Pakistan then, China now finds
it difficult to comply with the request to stop food and fuel supplies to
North Korea.
65 Hamish McDonald, “Beijing Content with the Devil it Knows, Despite
Pyongyang’s Nuclear Threat,” The Age (Melbourne), Jan. 14, 2003.
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92 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
fearing large-scale death and destruction, it should talk to it: “It is
not that the United States does not want to use force, but rather it
fears the consequences will be unimaginable … Judged from the inter-
national macro-environment, an inordinate intransigent US attitude
toward Korea is inappropriate.”66 For their part, many conservatives
in Washington are urging the Bush administration to seek a regime
change in Pyongyang, similar to what the United States is attempt-
ing in Iraq. Critics of the Bush administration’s China policy have
seized the opportunity to embarrass and pressure China. Two influ-
ential opinion makers, William Safire and Charles Krauthammer, of
the New York Times and the Washington Post respectively, have argued
that the key to resolving the North Korean crisis on Washington’s
terms lies with pressuring Beijingin Safire’s words, to “get its client
state, its satellite really, in line.” Safire observed:
Beijing cannot escape responsibility for tolerating North Korea’s
decision to build long-range missiles with nuclear warheads, to be
used for blackmailing America or for sale to terrorist nations or
groups. China’s silence is assent. Communist China is the only
nation with diplomatic, economic and military influence over Com-
munist North Korea. It cannot disclaim its salvation and sponsor-
ship of that state on its border... Perhaps Chinese generals have
not thought through the shift in military power in the region.67
Citing a recent report that China had sent 20 tons of chemicals
used to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel to Pyongyang, pre-
sumably making them complicit in Pyongyang’s nuclear program,
Krauthammer stressed the need to “tell [the Chinese] plainly that if
they do not join us in squeezing North Korea and thus stopping its
march to go nuclear, we will endorse any Japanese attempt to create
a nuclear deterrent of its own. If our nightmare is a nuclear North
Korea, China’s is a nuclear Japan. It’s time to share the nightmares.”68
66 Editorial, “Why Doesn’t US ‘Use Force’ Against DPRK?” People’s Daily
online, Jan. 8, 2003, available at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200301/
08/eng20030108_109768.shtml.
67 William Safire, “An Assignment for China and Russia,” International Herald
Tribune, Jan. 3, 2003, p. 7.
68 Charles Krauthammer, “The Japan Card,” Washington Post, Jan. 3, 2003, p. 19.
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Krauthammer was echoing similar arguments that have appeared in
American print and electronic media. Others, however, contend that
there is no “Japan card” for Washington to play because Beijing
calculates, not without reason, that “the United States itself would
strongly discourage any ‘nuclear breakout’ by Japan.”69 The predom-
inant view in Washington is that that since the United States used its
influence in the 1970s and 1980s to stop Taiwan and South Korea
from developing nuclear weapons, the Bush administration believes
that it is now time for Chinathe only country with leverage or
influence over North Koreato do its part to keep the nuclear “genie”
bottled. Statements from China (and Russia) show that they may be
more interested in feathering their own strategic nests than in seeking
a negotiated end to the North Korean nuclearization.70 The prolifer-
ation crises illustrate how America’s historically lackadaisical attitude
toward Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation has now come back
to haunt it.
For China, what is at stake is the unraveling of Beijing’s carefully-
crafted grand strategy with potentially destabilizing consequences.
Beijing cannot hope to strengthen its ties with Washington as long as
North Korea and Pakistan are in serious crises and pursuing policies
counter to important Chinese and US interests. For Beijing to continue
to have close ties with unpredictable and seemingly irrational regimes,
that starve and brutalize their own citizens, violate agreements, threaten
neighbors, build and export WMD, no matter how genuine China’s
own security concerns happen to be, it has a tremendous potential
of driving a wedge between China and the United States. If China
wants to escape from its status as a patron of rogue states and emerge
as a responsible great power, it may have to distance itself from
troublesome allies. China is increasingly uneasy over the growing talk
in Washington and Tokyo’s policy circles that wants to hold Beijing
accountable for Pyongyang’s actions or blames Beijing’s “indirect
strategy” of using allies to thwart American influence and further its
Mohan Malik 93
69 Robyn Lim, “Korea In the Vortex,” China Brief, Vol. III, Issue 1, 2003.
70 Some American observers have called for the withdrawal of the 37,000-strong
US force deployed in South Korea so as to force regional countries to shoulder
the responsibility of maintaining security in Northeast Asia and to pave the
way for (possible) denuclearization and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
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94 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
own military political aims instead of coming into direct confrontation
with Washington over such issues like Taiwan arms sales, the Middle
East, or missile defense.
Following the September 11 terror attacks, China was pleased
with the pro-Pakistan tilt in the Bush administration’s South Asia pol-
icy, after a decade of estrangement and abandonment by Washington
of China’s closest ally. Beijing wants to see closer US-Chinese-Pakistani
ties so as to foil New Delhi’s designs to align itself with Washington
to contain China and Pakistan. That policy is, however, in danger as
disenchantment grows with Islamabad’s half-hearted measures against
al-Qaeda and the widely-held perception in Washington’s policy
circles that both China and Pakistan are “double-dealing” with the
United States: on the one hand they claim to be US allies in the “War
against Terror,” and on the other maintain ties with North Korea
which has exacerbated the current nuclear tensions in Northeast Asia.
Many observers argue that Washington may have to rethink its poli-
cies if the global campaigns against terrorism and WMD proliferation
are to be decisively won. Soon after accusations were leveled against
Pakistan for supplying North Korea with equipment for enriching
uranium, The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland wrote an article that
declared that “[President] Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan is a base from
which nuclear technology, fundamentalist terrorism and life-destroy-
ing heroin are spread around the globe.... This nuclear-armed country
is in part ungoverned, in part ungovernable.”71 Other reports quoted
US officials as saying that after Iraq and North Korea, Pakistan would
be Washington’s next headache.72 The prospect of the United States
exercising greater control over Pakistan’s nuclear program, including
71 Jim Hoagland, “Nuclear Enabler: Pakistan Today Is the Most Dangerous
Place on Earth,” Washington Post, October 24, 2002. Also see B. Gautam,
“How long will U.S. ignore Pakistan threat?” Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2003; Ted
Anthony, “Alliance With Islamabad Shaky From Start,” Washington Times,
Jan. 11, 2003, p. 8; Glenn Kessler, “Powell Says Pakistan Warned On N. Kore-
an Ties: Musharraf Told He Will Face ‘Consequences’ If Nuclear Transfers
Continue,” Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2002, p. 21.
72 Paul Bedard, “Washington Whispers,” US News & World Report, Jan. 20, 2003;
Syed Saleem Shahzad, “The net closes on Pakistan,” Asia Times online, Jan.
23, 2003, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/EA23Df03.
html.
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the command and control of weapons and missile deployment is
equally discomforting for China as it could both reveal and jeopardize
the mutually-beneficial Sino-Pakistani military collaboration. Chinese
strategists have expressed alarm over the growing entente cordiale
between Japan and India based on the understanding that united they
contain China and divided they are contained by China and its allies.
Beijing is now concerned that Japan and India will seize on the oppor-
tunity to play up North Korea’s and Pakistan’s “roguish behavior”
and take additional measures to bolster their defenses against China.73
Though preoccupied with the Iraqi and al-Qaeda threats in the
short term, Washington will eventually have no other option but to
act tough to neutralize the challenge posed by the Beijing-Islamabad-
Pyongyang axis. The growing threat of nuclear terrorism post-Sep-
tember 11 has already resulted in the imposition of sanctions against
Chinese entities three times in less than a year (Sept. 1, 2001, Jan. 24,
and May 9, 2002). Beijing’s unconditional support for the “War on
Terror” notwithstanding, the US ambassador to China, Clark Randt,
describes China-assisted proliferation of WMD technologies as “a
make-or-break issue.” By openly defying attempts to limit WMD pro-
liferation, Kim Jong-il has undermined the credibility of the US
extended nuclear deterrence guarantees throughout the region. And
credibility is an integral part of deterrence. The worst-case scenario
is a “nuclear domino effect” where an overtly nuclear-armed North
Korea forces Japan, South Korea, and even Taiwan to go nuclear,
setting off a proliferation race in Asia with serious consequences for
China’s great power ambitions and regional stability on which China’s
economic growth depends. This would profoundly reshape the secu-
rity environment in Northeast Asia and prompt the United States to
accelerate deployment of ballistic-missile defenses. In response, China
would likely want to boost its arsenal, which would prompt India to
expand its nuclear arsenal, which in turn would spur Pakistan to do
the sameand so on and on into an ever more perilous future. Clearly,
Mohan Malik 95
73 J. Mohan Malik, “Dragon on Terrorism: Assessing China’s Tactical Gains and
Strategic Losses After 11 September,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 24,
No. 2 (Aug. 2002), pp. 277–280; PTI, “India Approaches US, Russia for North
Korea-Pak Nuke Nexus,” Hindustan Times, Dec. 8, 2002, p. 1.
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96 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
Pyongyang’s nuclear brinkmanship has the potential to derail Chinese
objectives of economic development and a peaceful security environ-
ment. As Stephen Blank points out: “Despite Chinese support and
assistance in the development of those missiles and North Korea’s
nuclear program, Beijing cannot be interested in North Korea flaunting
them, because that ties Japan closer to Washington’s missile defense
program, justifies US arguments as to its necessity, and restricts
China’s military freedom of maneuver.”74 Even more worrying is the
possibility that North Korea, a long-time proliferator of missile tech-
nology, could easily go into the ‘loose-nuke’ business once it starts
churning out the weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium.
Should Kim Jong-il find out the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden
and al-Qaeda, President Bush’s worst nightmare would become a
reality. Another danger to China is that North Korea-assisted nuclear
proliferation in the Middle East and sales of ballistic missiles could
solidify an alliance of Israel, the United States, India and Japan,
thereby fulfilling Beijing’s own paranoia of encirclement that it claims
it wants to avoid.
Not surprisingly, Beijing has urged a return to the Framework
Agreement and has refused to host Kim Jong-il in China since his
last “unofficial”visit in 2001. But the North Koreans seem to be in no
listening mood. An indication of this came from a statement issued
in Pyongyang recently that basically told the Chinese (and Russians)
to mind their own business: “If ‘other countries’ are worried about
its nuclear activities, they should urge the United States to open a
dialogue and guarantee North Korea’s security. If they do not intend
to do that, ‘it is better for them just to sit idle’.”75 Though China has
taken the unusual step of joining with Russia in publicly criticizing
Pyongyang’s nuclear program, many China-watchers suspect that
faced with Pyongyang’s intransigence and belligerence, China will
decide that the path of least resistance will be to persuade South
Korea and Japan to accept a nuclear North Korea.76 Arguing that
74 Stephen Blank, “Pyongyang Derails Northeast Asian Progress,” Asia Times
online, Dec. 17, 2002, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/
DL17Dg01.html.
75 Philip P. Pan, “China Treads carefully around North Korea,” Washington Post,
Jan. 10, 2003, p. 14.
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“both the DPRK and the United States failed to observe the [1994]
agreement,” Shi Yongming of the China Institute for International
Studies claims that “[t]he price [North Korea] asks is not high, just a
legal guarantee of peace and an end of hostility from the United
States,” and goes on to condone the North’s nuclearization: “The inter-
national community has reached a consensus on nuclear non-prolif-
eration. However, we cannot deny a country’s consideration of its own
security interests. We can still regard the DPRK’s admission of pos-
session of nuclear weapons as an approach to seek an opportunity
for peace. The crux of the matter is how the United States reacts… It has
a tradition of talking with inferior rivals only after they have been
disarmed first.”77 Apparently, the Chinese do not want to push the
Kim regime into a corner over the nuclear issue.
To convince North Korea to relent on the nuclear issue requires
the cooperation of all the regional powers and a joint, coordinated
economic and military strategy. But that is asking for too much
because China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Koreaall
have different interests on the Korean Peninsula. Each tends to see
the nuclear problem through the prism of national interest and as
part of a balance-of-power game where each major power is jockey-
ing for influence in anticipation of the eventual Korean unification.
Since each country’s interests differ, so do their strategies. This
explains why several months after the North’s enriched uranium pro-
gram was revealed, there is still no sign of a common strategy even
amongst alliesthe United States, South Korea and Japan, not to
speak of common strategy amongst all Northeast Asian powers. In
Beijing and other Asian capitals, Pyongyang’s challenge is also seen
as defining limits to American power and hegemony in the Asia-
Pacific.78
Last but not least, the nuclear crisis could bring about the demise
Mohan Malik 97
76 James Brooke, “China ‘Looming Large’ In South Korea As Biggest Player,
Replacing The US,” New York Times, Jan. 3, 2003.
77 Shi Yongming, “Give Peace A Chance,” Beijing Review, Nov. 21, 2002, p. 15.
Italics are mine.
78 David E. Sanger, “Asia’s Splits Deepen Korea Crisis,” New York Times, Dec.
29, 2002; Mohan Malik, “The Korean Peninsula: Conflict or Peace?” Current
Affairs Bulletin (Sydney), Vol. 69, No. 12 (May 1993), pp. 4–12.
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98 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
of the global non-proliferation regime and usher in an era of ‘the law
of the nuclear jungle.’ None of the nuclear non-proliferation treaties
will be worth the paper they are written on if North Korea succeeds
in its nuclear blackmail tactics, and goes on to openly produce nuclear
weapons and launch missiles in gross violation of its international
legal obligations. The crisis also exposes the inability of the non-pro-
liferation regime to enforce compliance. Even as the proliferation crisis
in Asia has worsened since the late 1990s, the UN Security Council
members have done little to address the problem by reinvigorating
treaty commitments in place and undertaking punitive measures. The
cases of North Korea and Iraq illustrate that a country’s signature on
the NPT is by no means a guarantee that it will eschew nuclear aspi-
rations for all time to come. The lesson drawn by Iran and others
from Washington’s very different approaches to dealing with Iraq and
North Korea is that the way to hold off the United States is to acquire
nuclear weapons. Should Pyongyang refuse to denuclearize, it might
start a nuclear chain-reaction in which previously nonnuclear coun-
tries may begin to reconsider their bargain and to hedge their bets
and the nightmare vision of a world with 15 or 20 nuclear powers
may yet come to pass. There is a general consensus that the NPT
would not be able to withstand any more defections.
In short, China’s “containment through surrogates” can be a win-
win strategy as long as it does not drag China into regional conflicts
and/or impinges negatively on China’s strategic and economic inter-
ests. Chinese policymakers’ preference for a balance-of-power
approach in inter-state relations has led them to provide military and
political support to those countries that can serve as counterweights
to Beijing’s perceived enemies and rivals. However, Beijing’s choice
of its allies and balance-of-power politics in the nuclear age has
proved to be a double-edge sword; it cuts both ways. The net result
is more insecurity for China.79
79 For example, if media reports about India’s nuclear cooperation with Vietnam
and missile collaboration with Taiwan are true, New Delhi may have decided
to have its own “Israel” to counter Beijing’s “Israel.” See AFP, “Taiwan, India
in secret military cooperation: Report,” Jan. 2, 2002. Full report in “Wo he
Indu mimi zhan kai junshi hezuo,” Lianhe xinwen [Taipei], available at
http://udnnews.com/CB/NEWS/FOCUSNEWS/POLITICS/647735.shtml;
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Therefore, the moral of the story is that “[if] you permit, or even
encourage, the proliferation of the deadliest weapons or the long-
range missiles with which they can be delivered, such acts are liable
to boomerang against you.”80 That is exactly what has happened to
China. In 1950, the North Korean leadership dragged China into a
war with the United Nations. At the end of it, a million Chinese
soldiers had been killed or wounded, including the son of Chairman
Mao Zedong. Beijing needs to ensure that history does not repeat
itself on the Korean Peninsula. As two China-watchers have pointed
out: “Korea could be the crucible that reveals whether China’s emerg-
ing status as a responsible great power is real or illusory.”81 More
than any other power, China has important economic and security
interests at stake on the Korean Peninsula and Beijing’s policies and
posture would make or mar the future of great power cooperation
and multilateralism in Northeast Asia for decades to come.
Conclusion
The North Korean-Pakistan nukes-for missiles barter deal illus-
trates how China is now facing its own blowback from shortsighted
policies. Beijing’s Asia strategy lies in tatters. While China’s support
for North Korea has its roots in the Cold War, Beijing’s support for
Pakistan has its roots in China’s hostility toward and rivalry with
India. China’s firm belief in the efficacy of raw balance-of-power
politics and its provision of nuclear and missile assistance to its
regional allies so as to undermine the security of China’s perceived
enemies has started a spiraling cycle of proliferation which could
unravel the entire nuclear non-proliferation regime. Nuclear prolifer-
ation through networking among second-tier nuclear states and
nuclear aspirants has opened the Pandora’s Box of a nuclear arms
race. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons exports to North Korea not only
Mohan Malik 99
Rakshat Puri, “Partnership with Vietnam,” Hindustan Times, Dec. 8, 1999.
80 “Nuclear lessons for China,” The Economist, Dec. 9, 2002.
81 Phillip C. Saunders and Jing-dong Yuan, “Korea Crisis will Test Chinese
Diplomacy,” Asia Times online, Jan. 8, 2003, available at http://www.atimes.
com/atimes/Korea/EA08Dg03.html.
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100 The Proliferation Axis: Beijing-Islamabad-Pyongyang
impinge on US security interests in East Asia, but also raise the specter
of the likelihood of nuclear weapons/materials/know-how being
passed on to the al-Qaeda terrorists. Given North Korea’s track record
of exporting ballistic missiles to anyone for the right price, one
certainly cannot rule out its willingness to export nuclear material,
and even nuclear weapons, to other countries and to non-state actors.
Beijing must also fear that North Korea’s nuclearization could prompt
Tokyo someday to shed all its nuclear inhibitions just as New Delhi
went nuclear and ballistic in 1998 to counter the Sino-Pakistan nuclear
and missile nexus.
On the Korean Peninsula, China is confronted with some very
difficult choices. While the Chinese and South Koreans believe that
North Korea can be persuaded over time to back away in pursuit of
its larger aim of extracting aid, investment and other concessions,
others are less sure. All agree that there is rationality in Kim Jong-
il’s seeming irrationality. Containment of North Korea can only be
accomplished if China and South Korea agree to it. This is not likely,
since a cut-off of Chinese economic assistancealong with interna-
tional sanctionscould bring about the implosion of the Stalinist
regime, or a desperate North Korean military could unleash military
strikes. It is obvious that Beijing considers it more important to avoid
either of these scenarios than removing WMD from North Korean
hands, and as such would prefer to help sustain the Kim regime than
let it collapse. The prospect of another war in the region is quite
unsettling to all. War prevention rather than nuclear non-proliferation
seems to be the objective of all parties. One hopes that North Korea’s
pressing need for economic ties to the outside world may eventually
force the regime to yield on the nuclear question. Otherwise, the world
will have to learn to live with a nuclear-capable Korea just as it has
lived with the nuclear weapons capabilities of Israel, India and
Pakistan.
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