US faults China on germ weapons, Iran, North Korea

By Jim Wolf
Thursday, September 14, 2006; 4:14 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States fears China may be violating international bans on chemical and biological weapons and is not doing enough to curb the spread of missile technology to states like North Korea and Iran, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

In testimony to the congressionally created U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a senior official said the Bush administration believed China was violating the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention by keeping a secret supply of biological weapons.

"We also continue to believe that China maintains some elements of an offensive BW capability in violation of its commitments," said Paula DeSutter, an assistant secretary of state responsible for verifying compliance with arms control commitments.

China joined the convention in 1984. In 2002, it said it had never developed, produced or stockpiled biological weapons, or helped other countries acquire or develop them.

DeSutter said China's research "raise the possibility that sophisticated BW and CW work could be underway" there. BW stands for biological and CW for chemical weapons.

The United States also suspects Chinese military involvement in studies on "aerosolization" techniques for possible germ weapons that attack via the respiratory system, she added.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Leonard Spector, a former Energy Department official now with the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said aerosolization -- making particles just fine enough to lodge in the lungs -- was the most difficult challenge in developing biological weapons.

"There's no particular reason for learning this unless you're thinking of doing something with these weapons," said Spector, an arms control expert.

On the spread of missile technology, the United States believes Chinese entities, including state-owned companies, remain key sources for such trade with countries like North Korea and Iran, said Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

The United States has branded both countries as members of the "axis of evil."

Beijing has repeatedly said it opposed the spread of materials that could be used in weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

"These transfers do considerable harm to international stability," Rodman said.

On June 13, the United States imposed sanctions on four Chinese entities for allegedly helping Iran's missile programs, a charge Beijing denies.