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China Threatens to Withdraw Pledge to Abide by Arms Pact

By Rone Tempest
Los Angeles Times


China's government threatened Friday to withdraw its official commitment to an international arms agreement in retaliation for trade sanctions imposed earlier in the week by the Clinton administration.

In an unusually strong formal protest that reflected the deteriorating relations between China and the United States in recent weeks, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Huaqiu told U.S. Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy: ``The Chinese government has been left with no alternative but to reconsider its commitment to the Missile Technology Control Regime."

China did not sign that 1987 international protocol, but in 1991 publicly pledged to honor it after negotiations with the Bush administration.

In addition, after months of silence on the issue by the Chinese government, Liu reopened China's attack on the United States for approving the sale of 150 F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan last year. Liu accused the U.S. government of hypocrisy for punishing China for supplying missile components to Pakistan, a country distant from American territory, while ``pouring large amounts of advanced weapons into the region sensitive to China."

The protest came two days after the Clinton administration banned U.S. sales of satellites and related technology to Chinese defense and aerospace industries. The American government took the action, involving trade valued at $400 million to $500 million, because it said China had secretly supplied longtime ally Pakistan with components for short-range M-11 missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and striking targets in India.

U.S. officials contended that the transaction violated guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime.

By banning the sale of satellites, Washington officials sought to selectively punish the civilian sector of the giant Chinese defense and aerospace manufacturer, Great Wall Industry Corp. Great Wall makes the Long March 2-E rockets used to launch satellites into orbit, including those manufactured by Los Angeles-based Hughes Space and Communications Co. But more relevant to the American action, Great Wall also makes the M-11 missiles that the United States accuses China of exporting to Pakistan.

The ``strong protest" lodged Friday by the Chinese against the sanctions was the most serious formal complaint since September 1992, when China, also through Liu, issued a ``strongest protest" against the sale of 150 F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan, which the Chinese contend was a violation of a 1982 protocol worked out during the Reagan administration in which the United States pledged to gradually reduce arms sales to the island nation.

In recent months, the Chinese government made few comments about the F-16 sales. However, Liu reopened the wound Friday to attack the United States for imposing the trade sanctions with the intent of controlling and limiting Chinese arms sales.

Liu described the F-16 deal as a ``blatant violation of the Sino-U.S. joint communique of Aug. 17, 1982" and a ``gross interference in China's internal affairs."

While it protested the trade sanctions and condemned the F-16 sale, the Chinese government also made a conciliatory gesture Friday in another area of concern to the United States: the recent expulsion of Chinese labor leader and dissident Han Dongfang from Chinese territory after he attempted to re-enter the country after two years in exile in the United States.

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said Friday that Han, founder of China's first independent labor union and leader in the 1989 democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, would be permitted back in the country if he shows ``signs of repentance and mending his ways in the future."