Leaked U.S. Cables Expose Tensions With China

Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, center, and China’s State Councilor Dai Binguo at a press conference during the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing in May.

BEIJING—Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables put China’s relationship with Iran under renewed scrutiny by suggesting Beijing hadn’t complied with U.S. requests to stop transfers to Tehran of technology and materials that could be used in its ballistic-missile and chemical-weapons programs.

To view popup window put your cursor on the blue words


“…upon the earth distressStrongs 4928: sunoche, soon-okh-ay´; from 4912; restraint, i.e. (figuratively) anxiety: — anguish, distress. of nations, with perplexityStrongs 640: aporia, ap-or-ee´-a; from the same as 639; a (state of) quandary:—perplexity.
Strongs 639: aporeo, ap-or-eh´-o; from a compound of 1 (as a negative particle) and the base of 4198; to have no way out, i.e. be at a loss (mentally):— (stand in) doubt, be perplexed
—Luke 21:25

Kings of the East

And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.”
—Revelation 16:12

China repeatedly failed to act on U.S. requests for it to stop shipments of ballistic-missile components from North Korea to Iran on commercial flights via the Beijing airport in 2007, according to one of more than a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables made public Sunday.

Another of the cables gathered by the website WikiLeaks showed that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked China in February this year to act on intelligence that Iran was trying to buy gyroscopes and carbon fiber for its ballistic missiles from Chinese companies.

Mrs. Clinton also expressed concern in May that Chinese companies were supplying Iran with precursors for chemical weapons, according to one more cable.

Last year, Mrs. Clinton raised concern that a Chinese company was selling French thermal-imaging technology to Tehran that could be used against U.S. forces in the Gulf, yet another cable showed.

The cables reflect continuing U.S. concern that China isn’t doing enough to prevent proliferation of materials and technology that could help Iranian weapons programs, despite Beijing’s introduction of stricter export controls in 2002.

Their publication comes at a sensitive time in China-U.S. ties, as Beijing faces mounting pressure from Washington to rein in an increasingly belligerent North Korea ahead of a visit to the U.S. by President Hu Jintao in January.

The cables also highlight U.S. concerns about China’s computer-warfare capability, and its influence in Central Asia. And they give potentially embarrassing blow-by-blow accounts of U.S. diplomats’ meetings.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. The U.S. State Department has called the leaks illegal and sought to limit the diplomatic fallout by calling dozens of foreign governments, according to U.S. officials.

Mrs. Clinton spoke about the leaks by telephone with her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, on Friday, the State Department said.

One cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing quoted an unidentified Chinese contact alleging in January this year that the Politburo, the powerful 25-person governing group in the Communist Party, ordered a cyberattack on Google Inc. as well as U.S. government computer systems.

A Google spokeswoman said: “We have conclusive evidence that the attack came from China.” She declined to comment further. China’s government has repeatedly denied any involvement in any cyberattacks.

Another cable described how the U.S. ambassador in Kyrgyzstan confronted her Chinese counterpart, Zhang Yannian, over information obtained from Kyrgyz officials that China offered the former Soviet republic $3 billion in exchange for its closing a U.S. airbase there.

“Visibly flustered, Zhang temporarily lost the ability to speak Russian and began spluttering in Chinese…,” said the cable, adding that Mr. Zhang later composed himself, and “ridiculed” the idea without categorically denying it.

Mr. Zhang, now China’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Another cable that could complicate U.S. diplomacy in Beijing gave a detailed account of a conversation between a U.S. political officer and Li Guofu, an expert on the Middle East at the China Institute for International Studies, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

That cable said Mr. Li suggested that the U.S. negotiate a secret deal with Iran allowing it limited uranium-enrichment operations in exchange for closer international supervision, and a suspension of its support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

“Some of the talks between me and my diplomat friends are not supposed to be open for public,” Prof. Li told The Wall Street Journal, adding that he would be more careful in discussions with U.S. diplomats in the future.

The most serious allegation in the cables is that China repeatedly turned a blind eye to shipments of missile components through Beijing on commercial flights operated by Air Iran, the Iranian national carrier, and Air Koryo, the North Korean one.

A cable dated Nov. 3, 2007, and signed by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a cargo of jet vanes—designed to stabilize missiles in flight—was set to be shipped from North Korea to Iran via Beijing on an Air Iran flight. The cable said the State Department sought “immediate action,” and instructed the U.S. ambassador in Beijing to raise the issue “at the earliest opportunity” and “at the highest level possible” to persuade the Chinese authorities to halt the delivery.

It’s unclear whether China complied, but the cable complained that at least 10 similar deliveries had been allowed to proceed despite U.S. requests for them to be halted.

China pledged in 2000 not to help any country develop ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. China also introduced stricter export controls in 2002 and has applied to join the 34-country Missile Technology Control Regime.

China also backed U.N. sanctions which imposed a broader arms embargo on Iran in June.

But an analysis of the Iranian missile threat last month by Arms Control Today, which is published by the independent Arms Control Association in Washington, suggested U.S. pressure on Beijing has produced only mixed results.

“This shows either China’s inability to enforce its own export laws, or a kind of malign negligence,” said Peter Crail, a research analyst at the ACA who covers North Korea. “There’s a pattern of frustration on the part of the U.S. government.”

He said one factor could be China’s continuing support for the North Korean regime, which earns much of its hard currency from exports of missile technology, often sold through front companies based in China.

Three cables sent by Mrs. Clinton in February this year show that the U.S. still had concerns about Iran obtaining missile technology from China.

One instructed U.S. diplomats to ask Chinese officials to act on intelligence that Iran was trying to buy Russian gyroscopes, which can help to stabilize and guide ballistic missiles, from a Chinese company.

A second cable said Iran was trying to buy the same gyroscopes from China through a Malaysian company, and a third said Tehran was seeking to purchase five tons of carbon fiber—which could be used to make nozzles and casing for its missiles—from a Chinese company.

Another cable from Mrs. Clinton in May said the U.S. was concerned that exports by named Chinese companies “could be used for or diverted to a CW [chemical weapons] program” and asked if the transfers were approved by the Chinese government.

—Sue Feng contributed to this article.

Copyright © In The Days