Dan Blumenthal is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. That is a fact.
Here are a few more facts about Blumenthal’s latest screed, “Providing Arms: China and the Middle East”, which appears in Daniel Pipes’ right-wing rag, the Middle East Quarterly.
Blumenthal’s article starts strong—which is to say that it begins with a falsifiable thesis statement:
Chinese policy in the Middle East has grown more active over the past decade. … Rather than distance itself from these promoters of jihad, the Chinese government has gambled that embracing Iran and Saudi Arabia in lucrative oil and weapons deals will buy it some protection from their export of political Islam.
Have Chinese weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Iran increased over the past decade?
No, at least not according to the most recent statistical information available from the State Department, which suggests that Chinese arms sales to the Middle East as a region declined over the most recent reporting period (1989-1999).
Chinese and US Arms Exports to the Middle East, 1989-1999 (US$ Billion)
World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT) (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 6 February 2003). Note: A ” – ” indicates exports between $3 and $50 M dollars.
Blumenthal doesn’t rely on statistics; instead he cites four pieces of anecdotal evidence: three types of arms sales to Iran and one sale to Saudi Arabia. Most are false and no sales occurred after 1997. We report, you decide … right?
Here are the facts.
1. “Since the mid-1980s, China has sold Iran, in whole or in parts, different variants of anti-ship cruise missiles such as the Silkworm (HY-2), the C-801, and the C-802. While Beijing was initially happy with the hard currency proceeds of such sales, the Chinese government’s motivations have expanded. … Chinese efforts to bolster the Islamic Republic’s anti-ship missile capability continue.”
China delivered about 320 total Silkworm, C-801 and C-802 cruise missiles between 1988-1996 to the Middle East (likely Iran).
After Iran test fired a C-801 cruise missile in January 1996, the United States sought and recieved assurances that China would stop selling anti-ship missiles to China in October 1997. The CIA reports that China “apparently has halted C-801/C-802 anti-ship cruise missile sales to Iran as promised in late 1997.”
It is hard to understand how “Chinese efforts to bolster the Islamic Republic’s anti-ship missile capability continue.” Rather, it would seem that Chinese efforts stopped after 1997.
2. “The Chinese government has sold Iran surface-to-surface cruise missiles and provided assistance in the development of long-range ballistic missiles.”
First, the IC concludes that China doesn’t possess Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM). China may have marketed a land-based version of the C-802 anti-ship missile.
Second, although Chinese firms appear to have provided assistance to the Iranian ballistic missile program, the Chinese government has not.
The CIA specifically notes that continuing Chinese assistance to iran is occurring by Chinese “entities.” The distinction matters. Whereas Blumenthal blames the “government” to support his thesis that the sales are part of a coordinated policy of “marketing to the mullahs,” the CIA reports he cites describes the problem as one of poor enforcement of export control laws:
Although Beijing has taken some steps to educate firms and individuals on the new missile-related export regulations—offering its first national training course on Chinese export controls in February 2003—Chinese entities continued to work with Pakistan and Iran on ballistic missile-related projects during the first half of 2003.
That point was also made by Assistant Secretary Rademaker in March 2005.
In other words, the problem is one of governance, not geopolitics—a point that many Chinese academics have made in discussing the drafting and implementation of Chinese export control laws.
This is the closest that Blumenthal will approach to an actual fact—but he blows it by specifically citing the “Chinese government” as the source of the ballistic missile assistance.
3. “Beijing has also contributed substantially to Iran’s nuclear and chemical weapons programs despite assurances to Washington that it has ceased such work. Perhaps the most egregious example was the supply of a uranium conversion facility and nuclear power reactors to Iran.”
China agreed to supply Iran with a 20 MW research reactor in 1991, two 300 MW pressurized water reactors in 1992, and a uranium conversion facility in 1994. (NTI has a summary. I went through a decade of Nucleonics Week to confirm their timeline.)
None of these deals were consumated. In October 1992, China canceled the 20 MW reactor deal. Plans to build a uranium conversion facility and the pair of PWRs were suspended and then terminated following Jiang Zemin’s 1997 pledge to end “civil nuclear commerce with Iran after completing two ongoing projects of negligible proliferation concern …”
Blumenthal cites the page 26 of a CIA report to suggest China has violated this pledge.
- The report is only 12 pages long. There is no page 26, you ninny. (Page 10 mentions some continuing contacts of concern among entities).
- As for the pledge, previous CIA reports indicate the Chinese government honored the pledge:
China pledged in late 1997 not to engage in any new nuclear cooperation with Iran and to complete work on two remaining nuclear projects—a small research reactor and a zirconium production facility—in a relatively short period of time. During the first half of 1998, Beijing appears to have implemented this pledge. The Intelligence Community will continue to monitor carefully Chinese nuclear cooperation with Iran.
To summarize: All of the evidence that Blumenthal could muster is a trio of never consumated agreements from more than a decade ago. China’s behavior in the interim has been to suspend or cancel these agreements, not expand them.
Here is how the CIA described the behavior of the Chinese goverment:
Over the past several years, Beijing improved its nonproliferation posture through commitments to multilateral arms control regimes, promulgation of export controls, and strengthened oversight mechanisms …
If “Beijing” is “marketing to the mullahs,” it is doing a shitty job.
4. “If oil is one pillar of the Sino-Saudi relationship, proliferation is the other. China has sold Saudi Arabia intermediate range (3000 km) ballistic missiles (CSS-2s) that Riyadh has had trouble acquiring from other sources.”
Check this out for being outright disingenuous: Blumenthal cites the FAS website “accessed Jan. 14, 2005.”
He neglects to note that the sale occurred in 1988.
China has not transfered CSS-2 or any other kind of ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia in the intervening seventeen years. In fact, China has promulgated new export control laws and expressed a desire to acceed to the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Proliferation as a pillar of the Sino-Saudi relationship? Maybe seventeen years ago.
None of this is to suggest that Chinese export control system is beyond reproach. China still needs to improve enforcement of existing arms control regulations, particularly against so-called “serial proliferators” like NORINCO. After lauding Chinese goverrnment efforts to improve nonproliferation, the CIA notes that “the proliferation behavior of Chinese companies remains of great concern.”
That is a different argument than Blumenthal is making. Contrary to Blumenthal’s paranoid fantasies, China places greater emphasis on maintaining positive relations with the United States than playing power politics games in the Middle East.