Chinese policies on arms control and proliferation in the Middle East

G. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In global terms, China's arms control and non-proliferation policies can be described as ambivalent or contradictory. On a declaratory basis, the government is formally committed to the objectives of non-proliferation, and has agreed to participate in the major multilateral frameworks. This marks a major change in comparison to the declaratory policies of the previous decades. At the same time, in its behaviour and implementation of these policies, China, like Russia, has often been willing to allow the transfer of weapons and dual-use technology and facilities that most other members of the various suppliers' regimes have prohibited. According to the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, China is the principal supplier of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to the world. Although China sent its representatives to the early meetings of the Middle East multilateral working group on Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS), created at the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991, they did not play an active role. Other states, including Russia, Canada, Australia and the members of the European Union, took the initiative for organising workshops and demonstration projects within the ACRS framework, but China did not become involved. Indeed, the export of Chinese technology (as well as Russian and North Korean systems) for the WMD and missile programmes of countries such as Iran and Syria, which are not participating in the process, exacerbated the instability in the region and served to undermine the goals of the ACRS. Thus, China continues to be a major source of concern in the area of arms control and proliferation in the Middle East. In the wake of the recent nuclear tests of India and Pakistan, upsetting the nuclear equilibrium that had prevailed for the past twenty-four years (since the initial Indian test in 1974), Chinese leaders may be reconsidering their policies. It would seem that widespread proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons in the Middle East would not serve Chinese interests. The spread of such weapons to groups and states that may pose a threat to China, particular through Iran, may become a source of concern, leading to greater Chinese willingness to block destabilising transfers of technology to Iran and other rogue states in the Middle East.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-400
Number of pages20
JournalChina Report
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1998


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