WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III warned yesterday that missile deals by China could seriously damage relations with the United States.
His warning seemed intended as much to appease Congress as to threaten China, as the Bush administration fights a strong Democratic effort to impose conditions on renewing favorable trade treatment for China if not to deny it outright.
China is believed to have deals in the works to sell M-9 missiles to Syria -- although Mr. Baker said there was no evidence of delivery -- and M-11 missiles to Pakistan. Critics say this is part of a pattern of selling missiles and nuclear technology to regimes in unstable regions.
The M-9 is a solid-fuel, surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 350 miles. The M-11 is a surface-to-surface missile with a range of 180 miles. The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control says both are capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
At a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, one member said that China had assured National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft in December 1989 that it wouldn't sell medium-range missiles in the Middle East and in particular was not planning to sell M-9 missiles to Syria.
Without confirming this account, Mr. Baker responded, "We have made it clear that there would be potentially profound consequences for our bilateral relationship if they were to change the missile export policies that they might have represented to us.
"We have told them, as well, that we think that sending M-11s to Pakistan would constitute grave threats to the region and could have bilateral consequences."
Undersecretary of State Reginald Bartholemew will reinforce warnings on missile and nuclear proliferation when he goes to China next week.
Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., said that if Mr. Bartholemew proved unable to alter or reverse China's latest missile-sale plans, "it's going to be difficult in terms of working with a number of members on both sides of the aisle."
The administration is trying to persuade Congress that killing or putting conditions on most-favored-nation trade treatment is the wrong vehicle to register opposition to China's policies on weapons sales and human rights, saying trade serves to open China further to Western contact and the free market.
"There are other ways to show displeasure," a senior official said, suggesting that the administration might ultimately have to accept additional sanctions against China not directly tied to trade.
Toward the end of yesterday's hearing, Mr. Baker got into a sharp exchange with panel Chairman Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who contended that the Persian Gulf war, far from ensuring stability, had produced a "new world disorder."
"We've still got Saddam [Hussein]. We've had to adopt the Kurds. We have strengthened Iran. Down in Kuwait, the emir waited until they established room service before he returned with his 41 wives and promptly closed down the press. . . . We've left Jordan as a basket case. Morocco was almost ready to leave the coalition."
"What we did, senator," the secretary responded, "was to mobilize the international community to make it clear that unprovoked aggression by a big country against a little one isn't going to stand up. . . . And I think the American people, senator, are proud of what we did."