Arming China -- The Bill Clinton Connection

Arming China -- The Bill Clinton Connection

We even sold them our factories.

Michael Ledeen

Conversations on social media are beginning to stress the urgency of reconsidering our relationship with the People’s Republic of China. It was only recently that most Americans discovered that most of our pharmaceuticals are manufactured in China, and that the Chinese are in a position to withhold them during an emergency of the sort we now face.

Recent stories have documented Chinese espionage, including the bribery of top American biochemists at places like Harvard, that entailed the constant travel of U.S. experts between China and the United States. Given the short memories of American political leaders, these stories have made it appear as though espionage is of very recent vintage. 

But it is not so. The United States has been arming China for more than 20 years.

In the Spring of 1997, Stephen Bryen and I wrote a detailed account in Heterodoxy, a magazine edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, dealing with American export controls of militarily useful technology. It was entered into the Congressional Record by Tillie Fowler, a Florida representative.

The theme of the account was how the Clinton Administration was arming China. Knowingly and deliberately.

It is often said that, in the world of advanced technology, embargoes or export controls cannot possibly work, because if they don't get it from us, they'll get it from somebody else.

This is false. To compete with the U.S. militarily, China has to get our technology, and, most of the time, that means getting it directly from us.

Steve and I knew that Bill Clinton and his foreign policy team were busily arming Beijing, which in turn armed “rogue nations” such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Remember this all happened about 25 years ago. We noted that, on the one hand, it did make sense to sell a very limited amount of advanced military technology to the Communist Chinese, for example devices for nuclear safety, or for certain military systems with important civilian applications, such as satellite launchers. But the Clinton Administration was not doing that. Instead, it was executing a deliberate policy—apparently one that had full approval from the top levels of the Administration, despite the vigorous opposition from government agencies and from individual officials infuriated at the flow of top technology to China. This often took the form of selling off some of our finest factories to China, at pennies on the dollar, and included our finest supercomputers and the key element to modern jet engines, which had been blocked for export to the Soviet bloc.

The Pentagon redefined supercomputers as “civilian” products, and some 46 of them, including IBM, Convex (later, Hewlett Packard) and Silicon Graphics, were sold, many of them to the Chinese defense industry, or being put to use in nuclear weapons design.

This represents a truly terrifying hemorrhage, for supercomputers are the central nervous system of modern warfare. The sales of 46 supercomputers give the Chinese more of these crucial devices than are in use in the Pentagon, the military services, and the intelligence community…

They enable the Chinese to more rapidly design state-of-the-art weapons, add stealth capability to their missiles and aircraft, improve their anti-submarine warfare technology, and dramatically enhance their ability to design and build smaller nuclear weapons suitable for cruise missiles. Thanks to the folly of the Clinton Administration, the Chinese can now conduct tests of nuclear weapons, conventional explosives, and chemical and biological weapons on supercomputers.

That was the first wave. In the years since, we have bent over backwards to enable the Chinese to strengthen themselves, and it wasn’t until President Trump shut down air travel to and from the PRC in early 2020—in response to the global virus pandemic, not in the name of national security—that we began to get a grip on the massive influx of Chinese spies. But it’s important to remember that it all began with an American decision to arm China.

There are those who say that we had to strengthen China to act as a bulwark against Russia, but I don’t buy that. The big shift to Chinese manufacture came because they could make things far more cheaply than others could. That’s the profit motive, not national security.

Photo: Gage Skidmore