Missile Control and Missile Defense: A Chinese Perspective


Xuecheng Liu,  Ph. D.

Senior fellow and Director of American Studies

China Institute of International Studies



Since the end of the Cold War, the international security situation has undergone profound changes. Security threats have been diversified and become increasingly unpredictable. Traditional and non-traditional security factors are intertwined with non-traditional ones becoming increasingly salient. Terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction now have posed grave challenges to the international community. International terrorist groups have made every attempt to obtain missile and nuclear technologies and materials and make weapons of mass destruction. The combination of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction has constituted a grave threat to the international community. Under such circumstances, the international arms control and non-proliferation legal system should be maintained and improved, and their authority should be strengthened. In this respect, the role of the Unite Nations should be given to full play. This serves the common interests of all countries. In order to cope with the common security threats, all countries should work together to maintain global strategic balance and stability within the multilateral and cooperative framework.

When we talk about missile control and missile defense, the issue is closely related to missile proliferation or development. While we see the development of offensive missiles as a proliferation issue, we pay little attention to the fact that the development of defensive missiles is also a proliferation issue. In the hi-tech war of today, the difference between offensive and defensive weapons is blurring. Therefore, when we discuss the issue of missile control, it is necessary and inevitable to discuss the control of both offensive and defensive missiles.


China and Missile Control


China does not intend to help any country, in any way, develop missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. China has adopted rigorous measures both for the domestic control of sensitive missile items and technologies and for their export control. In the recent years, China has strengthened the control of sensitive equipment and the related technologies in terms of missile control and non-proliferation. At the same time, China has actively joined many multilateral non-proliferation mechanisms and participated in their activities in a cooperative and constructive manner.


1. Chinafs Efforts for Missile Control and Non-Proliferation


China supports the international community in its efforts to prevent the proliferation of missiles and related technologies and materials, and adopts a positive and open attitude toward all international proposals for strengthening the missile non-proliferation mechanism. China has constructively participated in the work of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Missiles, as well as the international discussions on the draft of the International Code of Conduct Against Missile Proliferation and the proposal of a Global Control System.

China attaches great importance to non-proliferation and is opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems. On the export control of missiles and missile-related items and technologies, China has taken a prudent and responsible attitude. As early as ten years ago, in February 1992, China declared that it would observe the guidelines and parameters of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in the export of missiles. Since then, China has taken administrative means to implement our non-proliferation policies and fulfill our commitments in this regard.

On August 22, 2002, China promulgated Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Export Control of Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies and the Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies Export Control List.[i] This is another important measure China has taken to implement its missile non-proliferation policy, to further strengthen export controls over missiles and missile-related items and technologies and to enhance such controls by legal means. China's export control system has been transformed from an administrative management to a law-based control.

The Regulations provide for a licensing system for export control of missiles and missile-related items and technologies. Without being licensed, no export can take place. The export of relevant items and contracts shall be examined and approved by the competent department for administration of arms trade and a license shall be required for the export. The promulgation of the Regulations and the Control List marks a milestone in China's legal framework for export control. China will continue to improve its existing controls in the light of need and also drawing on other countries' successful and applicable experiences.

In order to ensure the effective implementation of the relevant laws and regulations, China has continually improved export control institutions, publicized relevant policies and regulations, and investigated and handled cases of violation. To ensure compliance by export enterprises at all stages of export, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs have formulated the Export Licensing Catalogue of Sensitive Items and Technologies. To obtain consulting assistance in the process of license approval, the Ministry of Commerce has also set up an expert supporting system that consists of experts from relevant fields. China attaches great importance to the investigation and handling of cases of law violations relating to non-proliferation, and imposes punishments on violators according to law.


2. China and Multilateral Non-Proliferation Mechanisms


China firmly opposes the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their means of delivery. China has worked, in a cooperative and constructive manner, together with many multilateral nonproliferation mechanisms in the world. China has participated extensively in the construction of the multilateral non-proliferation regime and actively promoted its constant improvement and development. China has signed all international treaties related to non-proliferation, and joined most of the relevant international organizations.


The Missile Technology Control Regime

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was established in 1987. The purpose of MTCR is to prevent the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and its related technologies. As a multinational export control regime in the field of missiles, MTCR has played a positive role in slowing down the proliferation of missiles and missile-related technologies. China has drawn upon the Guidelines and Technical Annex of the MTCR in formulating its missile export control regulations and control list, and the principles and scope of China's missile export control are basically in line with those of the MTCR. In recent years, China has maintained close consultations and communications with the MTCR and the relationship between the two sides is improving. The MTCR participants have repeatedly expressed their welcome to China's participation in the MTCR in principle. China would favorably consider its participation in the MTCR. In February 2004, China and the MTCR held the first round of dialogue in Paris and exchanged views on the issue of export control and related technical issues. The second round of dialogue was held in Beijing in June 2004.


Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (Wassenaar Arrangement) was established in Vienna In July 1996. It is aimed at the promotion of transparency in the transfer of conventional arms and sensitive dual-use items and technologies through information exchanging mechanism. The Arrangement has played some positive role in assisting its participating states in standardizing export control regulations and preventing the proliferation of relevant sensitive items and technologies. China has taken reference to the Arrangement in the process of formulating its gMilitary Products Export Control List.h China attaches importance to the Arrangement's role and is open to dialogues and exchanges with the Arrangement and its participants. At the end of 2003, the Arrangement initiated contact with China and the two sides agreed to establish a mechanism for dialogues. The first dialogue meeting was held in April 2004.


The Proliferation Security Initiative

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) was launched by US President Bush in May, 2003. Its aim is to prevent the trafficking of Weapons of Mass Destruction and related sensitive goods through measures like information sharing and interdiction. China follows closely the development of the PSI. We share the concerns of PSI participants over the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and their means of delivery and favor the PSI's purpose of nonproliferation. China is willing to cooperate with its participants in the information exchange and law enforcement within the framework of international law. However, China feels concerned about the legitimacy of the interdiction measures taken by PSI participants beyond the international law and their possible consequences.


Hague Code of Conduct against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles

The Hague Code of Conduct against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles (HCOC) was established in Hague in November 2002. The HCOC is aimed at promoting missile nonproliferation through transparency and confidence building measures. China exercises strict export control on missile-related items and technologies. China's policy on missile nonproliferation comes in line with the principles and purpose of the HCOC. China is willing to maintain engagement and exchange with HCOC members and strengthen cooperation in the field of missile nonproliferation.


Man-Portable Air Defense Systems

Looking into the tendency of terrorist activities around the world, Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) used by international terrorists have posed a threat  to the security of civil aviation. China supports the international efforts in counter-terrorism and in favor of taking necessary measures to prevent MANPADS from falling into the hands of terrorists. China has adopted prudent and responsible attitudes towards arms exports, and brought relevant export activities under strict control by relevant regulations. China has taken note of the proposals to strengthen MANPADS management and export control by some countries and multilateral mechanisms, and participated in the discussion of this issue in some multilateral mechanisms and fora such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the ASEAN Regional Forum.


China is willing to join the efforts with all the countries for ensuring the nonproliferation of the WMD and their means of delivery. The CSCAP working group on Confidence and Security Building Measures has put export controls on its agenda. At the Singapore meeting, Chinese CSCAP members stressed their country's commitment to developing a better export control regime. They saw the effort as a critical part of China's attempt to modernize its economy and to build better relations with the United States. Dr. Glosserman points out, gThis is a promising development and could signal a broader shift in thinking throughout the region. China-US cooperation in this area could also serve as a model for broader regional cooperation.h[ii]


China and Ballistic Missile Defense


In terms of the development of the Ballistic Missile Defense systems, it can be traced back to the era of the Cold War. The Reagan administration initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the strategic arms race with the Soviet Union in 1983. It failed for financial and technological reasons. In the 1990s, based on the research and development of the SDI, the Clinton administration restarted the SDI in the form of the National Missile Defense (NMD) and Theater Missile Defense (TMD) in the pursuit of the absolute superiority in the field of strategic arms development. The former is designed to protect the United States, and the latter its allies in East Asia. During the Clinton administration, several tests were conducted and failed.

The Bush administration continued the unaccomplished cause and substituted the concept of glayered defenseh (the boost phase, mid-course phase, and terminal phase) for the previous divisions of missile defense into the NMD and the TMD. In order to carry out research, development, and deployment of the BMD without hands tied, the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the ABM signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972. Since then, on the one hand, the Bush administration has sped up the research and testing of the BMD system, and is expected to deploy such systems in 2006. On the other, it has strengthened its cooperation with Japan and Australia in the field of its research and deployment. Although the US officials claimed that there is no intention to neutralize Chinafs limited nuclear deterrent, its capabilities indeed exist. Chinafs position is consistent, firm and clear: opposition, no fear, and cope with it in a prudent and serious way.


Why China opposes the BMD


To justify the BMD program, the US reasons that the greatest strategic threat to the United States is an attack by ballistic missiles armed with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. Thus, it is an urgent need for robust and layered missile defense systems based on land, sea, air, and in space, which are capable of intercepting a missile during any phase of its flight. The US must be prepared to defend the US its allies from missile threats posed by the so-called grogue statesh. Apparently, the US has exaggerated such missile threats. However, such a program is based on a profound strategic consideration, which is to make use of USfs unrivaled economic and technological might to grab the strategic high grounds for the 21st century both in scientific and military fields, so as to break the global strategic balance, seek absolute security for itself. This will inevitably have a negative impact on the global security and the international arms control, non-proliferation processes. Dr. Yuan Jingdong remarks that gChina is acutely concerned that given the very small size of its strategic nuclear weapons arsenal, even a limited US missile defense system would neutralize its nuclear deterrence. Beijing would be extremely uncomfortable finding itself deprived of the capacity for retaliation and therefore potentially subject to nuclear blackmail.h[iii]


The BMD Cannot Cope with the New Threats

As I mention at the beginning of this paper, the security challenges we are facing today, whether international terrorism or the proliferation of WMD, have changed. It is necessary for countries to cooperate to address such challenges, especially the challenges posed by non-state actors, terrorists and transnational crimes. To develop the missile defense systems is simply not the answer. Confronted with the rising non-traditional security threats, all countries have to reconsider their security strategy and security priorities. The terrorist attacks on September 11th have testified that a missile defense system is not the way to counter terrorist attacks and new security challenges. Such a system will not facilitate mutual trust or cooperation among countries or contribute to any countryfs security.


The BMD in Disconformity with the General Direction of Arms Control

There are different views even in the United States about the nature of missile defense, whether it being a system of defense, or a system of offense, or a system combining both defense and offense. The most important thing is to maintain the international arms control and disarmament regimes, and to strengthen, not to weaken the rule-based arms control and disarmament. The development of missile defense is the issue of missile proliferation, not in conformity with this general direction. It may undermine the international strategic balance and stabiliy. It will not be an answer to the challenges or threats that it was allegedly intended to address. The U.S. missile defense program will hamper the international arms control and disarmament process and even trigger a new round of arms race. The BMD will become a multiplier of the U.S. strategic offensive force. It is, in essence, a U.S. program of unilateral nuclear expansion. It may start off an arms race in outer space, and may also extend the arms race from offensive weapons to defensive weapons.


Seeking Absolute Security at the Cost of Othersf Security

       The BMD is designed to obtain absolute security under the circumstances of absolute superiority in the offensive strategic weapons. The US and its allies have intended to seek their own security at the cost of the insecurity of other countries. Dr. Shen Dingli points out, gThe U.S. has stated clearly that China has not been figured in its NMD calculations. However, China views the situation differently and remains strongly suspicious of the U.S. intentions in terms of NMD development. From China's perspective, it is untenable that the U.S. would spend 60-100 billion dollars on a system that has only "rogue" states in mind.h[iv]

The fundamental objective of a new global strategic framework should be the common security for all countries. It should not be built up on the zero-sum game but on the win-win basis. This is true both economically and in terms of security. Never before has security been so mutual that the security challenges have to be dealt with by regional or global efforts. The security of one country cannot be achieved at the expense of the insecurity of others. Absolute security of oneself does not exist. A new global strategic framework can be stable only if it enhances common security.


Undermining Chinafs Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

China firmly opposes any Missile Defense assistance or protection to Taiwan by any country and by whatever means. As Huntley assesses, gTaiwan is central to China's perceptions of the United States' proposed Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and National Missile Defense (NMD).h [v] The United States has used the Taiwan Relations Act to raise the level of political and military exchange and cooperation with the Taiwan authorities. The Taiwan authorities have advocated that the United States, Japan and Taiwan work together in research and development of the BMD system. The US has sold advanced weapon systems, including possible sales of the Aegis destroyers equipped with advanced radar and communication systems, to Taiwan and intended to incorporate Taiwan into its BMD system. China is gravely concerned that the US government has decided to sell to Taiwan the PAC-3 systems, which have an anti-missile capability and Aegis anti-missile systems. China is opposed to the provision of missile defense system or its related technology to Taiwan in any form by the US, because the essence of such a move would be to put Taiwan under the US umbrella of military protection, which would be tantamount to the restoration of quasi military alliance between the US and Taiwan. It would also constitute a serious violation of the three Sino-US joint communiques and would severely undermined the basis of the Sino-US diplomatic relations.


How China Responds to the BMD


       Now that the U.S. and its allies insist on the development of the BMD systems, this program should be managed not to affect global strategic stability and balance, or harm international and regional peace and stability. China pursues a security concept based upon mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation so as to ensure common security for all countries and create a favorable international environment for progress in missile control and nuclear non-proliferation within the multilateral framework.

China does not want to see a confrontation over the BMD issue between China and the U.S. nor an arms race between the two countries. We are against the US missile defense program, not because we intend to threaten the security of the U.S. with our nuclear weapons. We just hope that the existing mutual deterrence between the two countries can be preserved because the BMD will compromise Chinafs security. China's nuclear arsenal is the smallest and least advanced among the five nuclear powers. China is the first to pursue the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Of course, China will not allow its legitimate means of self-defense to be weakened or even taken away by anyone in any way. As Ambassador Sha Zukang has pointed out,gIf the U.S. is bent on developing NMD, I think we should have reason to be confident that we can deal with it.h[vi]

China stands for non-weaponization of the outer space. Under current circumstances, especially with the development of outer space technologies, the risk of weaponization of outer space does exist. Weaponization of outer space does not accord with the interests of any state. The BMD development could lead to possible weaponization of the outer space. China has consistently stood for the peaceful uses of outer space and against introducing weapons into outer space. Therefore, the international community should take effective measures to ensure the uses of outer space for peaceful purposes and prevent the weaponization of the outer space. As Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qiao zhonghuai stated, gIf we should remain indifferent to the above-mentioned developments, outer space would eventually become the fourth battlefield besides land, sea and air.h[vii]

Multilateral dialogue and cooperation of the international community is essential for the progress in missile control and non-proliferation. Fair, rational and non-discriminatory nature of the non-proliferation regime must be ensured. Either the improvement of the existing regime or the establishment of a new one should be based on the universal participation of all countries within the multilateral and cooperative framework. Unilateralism and double standards should be abandoned, and great importance should be attached and full play given to the role of the United Nations.

International cooperation offers the only correct and effective way to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. The non-traditional security threats have highlighted the importance and urgency of preventing such proliferation. As the causes of proliferation are complex, a simplified approach, such as pressure, sanctions or even threat of force, will not resolve the problem, but rather undermine cooperation and be counter-productive for non-proliferation and even global peace and stability.

       China has no intention to start an arms race with the United States in the field of missile control and missile defense. China will make efforts to avoid possible confrontation with the United States in missile control and missile defense. China seeks bilateral strategic dialogue to address the current security issues. The U.S. has stated on many occasions that its missile defense program is not targeted at China. We expect this to be translated into concrete actions. We hope that Taiwan should not be incorporated into such a missile defense system, nor be provided with missile defense technology. We also hope that the U.S. takes a prudent attitude towards its missile defense cooperation with Japan, so as to avoid jeopardizing regional peace and stability. We are ready to continue to have serious and honest dialogue with the U.S. on the issue of missile defense.

China and the United States are both permanent members of the UN Security Council and Nuclear-Weapon-States. The two countries share common interests on many major international issues and both undertake important responsibilities. It is impossible and even unimaginable to build a new stable global strategic framework without the participation of and cooperation between China and the U.S. Naturally, China and the U.S. also have differences on issues such as missile defense and non-proliferation. Yet, these differences are by no means unbridgeable. They can be resolved or managed through dialogue and cooperation. We believe that we will be able to expand the common ground and narrow the differences through bilateral strategic dialogue and consultation.




The fundamental purpose of missile control and non-proliferation is to safeguard and promote international and regional peace and security, and all measures should be conducive to achieving this goal. China does not support, encourage or assist any country to develop WMD and their means of delivery. China resolutely supports international non-proliferation efforts, and stands for the attainment of the non-proliferation goal through peaceful and diplomatic means. On the one hand, the international non-proliferation mechanism should be continually improved and export controls of individual countries updated and strengthened; on the other hand, proliferation issues should be settled within the multilateral framework of dialogue and cooperation.

The development of the emerging cooperation on the advanced Theatre Missile Defense system in the Asia-Pacific area has not only gone beyond the legitimate defense needs of the countries concerned and exerted potential impact on regional security, but also led to the proliferation of advanced missile technologies. While some countries are advocating the control of other countriesf missiles, they are engaging in the proliferation of more advanced missile technologies through the BMD program among their allies and friends, posing threats to peace and stability in East Asia.

The issue of ballistic missile proliferation should be addressed by political and diplomatic approaches. The development of missile defense involves strategic stability and mutual trust between major powers. Therefore, relevant states should carry out constructive dialogue on this issue, increase transparency of missile defense program, so as to decrease the unnecessary misunderstanding and miscalculation. The countries concerned should conduct strategic dialogue and consultations on the issue of missile defense.

With the end of the Cold War, non-traditional threats, such as terrorism, proliferation of WMD, and transnational crimes, are taking the place of geopolitical inter-state confrontation as the biggest challenge to international peace and security. The g9.11h terrorist attack and international terrorist activities have shown that no country, however strong, is immune from security threats or is able to achieve absolute security by acting alone. In order to cope with international terrorism and the proliferation of WMD, it is urgent for the international community to build up a new global strategic framework based on multilateral cooperation. Under such circumstances, multilateral cooperation is not a matter of choice, but a matter of course. There is an emerging consensus in the international community that security should be sought through cooperation, and mutual trust can be promoted by dialogue. Only in this way can all the countries effectively counter global security challenges and achieve common security and lasting peace. As Mr. Qian Qichen points out, gIn this world of great complexity, mutual trust and coordination are the prerequisite for an enduring universal security. No matter how complicated the situation might be, we should always work to enhance mutual trust through dialogue, settle disputes through negotiation and promote development through cooperation. The war in Iraq, among others, is a good reminder to us that willful abuse of force does not lead to peace and unilateral action does not guarantee security.h[viii]



[i] Briefing by Mr. Liu Jieyi Director General of Arms Control and Disarmament Dept. MFA on the Promulgation of Regulations on Export Control of Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies and the Control List, August 27, 2002.

[ii] Brad Glosserman , gAsia's proliferation dilemma,h Asia Times, August 29, 2004. 

[iii],Jing-dong Yuan, gBush's ABM bombshell: The fallout in Asia,h Asia Times, January 8, 2002.

[iv] Dingli Shen, gA Chinese Perspective on National Missile Defense.h

[v] Wade L Huntley and Robert Brown, gUS missile defense and China,h Asia Times, February 7, 2001.

[vi] Ambassador Sha Zukang's Briefing on Missile Defense Issue, March 23, 2001.

[vii] Speech by H.E. Mr. Qiao Zhonghuai, Vice Foreign Minister, at China/UN Disarmament Conference, May 9, 2002.

[viii] Statement by H.E. Mr. Qian Qichen, Former Vice Premier of China at the New Delhi Conference, July 2, 2004.