technology used in three years
Stephen Fidler in Washington and James Kynge in Beijing
China could deploy a
nuclear weapon using designs stolen from the US within three years, according to a
Congressional report, released yesterday, into Chinese efforts to acquire US technology.
The long-awaited report from a House of Representatives committee chaired by
Christopher Cox, Republican from California, said miniaturised nuclear warheads - from
designs stolen from the US - could be placed on missiles, which could be on mobile
launchers, that China could bring into use as early as 2002.
The missile - the so-called DF-31 - could be tested this year, the report said. Until
now, China's nuclear weapons arsenal has been based in hard-to-defend static silos.
In another conclusion with significant implications for regional security in Asia, the
committee said China would "exploit elements" of neutron bomb technology stolen
from the US. No country has so far fielded such enhanced radiation weapons, which kill
people but leave buildings intact.
The wide ranging bipartisan report into Chinese efforts to acquire US technology with
military uses - including the alleged theft of nuclear secrets from US national
laboratories - has already aroused deep controversy in Washington.
There have been calls for the dismissal of two senior administration officials, Janet
Reno, the attorney-general, and Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton's national security
adviser, for not responding decisively enough when security breaches were unearthed.
The controversy has further strained US-China relations, which have deteriorated
sharply since the Nato bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade this month.
China denounced the report as the work of people seeking to destroy bilateral relations
and deflect attention from the embassy bombing.
Zhu Bangzao, China's foreign ministry spokesman, called the report
"groundless" and said it had been concocted by some Americans to
"exaggerate that China stole US nuclear technology".
But Mr Cox said: "What we are sad to learn is that [China] has stolen information
on every currently employed warhead in the US arsenal."
John Spratt, a Democrat on the committee, said: "The intelligence community does
not know how big the base of this iceberg is." Joe Lockhart, White House spokesman,
said although the administration did not agree with all the committee's findings most of
the panel's recommendations for improved security were "constructive".
Doug Bereuter, a Republican, said the US needed to re-evaluate all aspects of its
relationship with China. He said the US could no longer count on the Chinese being 20 to
30 years behind in weapons technology.
The report was commissioned last year by Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the House,
initially to look into reports of technology transfers during Chinese launches of US
satellites. But after testimony to the committee from Notra Trulock, a senior intelligence
official at the Energy department, which is responsible for US national laboratories, the
scope of the investigation widened to cover other Chinese efforts to acquire technology.