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How China Is Behind the Nuclear Program of Iran—and Every Other Rogue State

Beijing proved masterful at enabling Pyongyang to expand its program, and did the same for Pakistan. Now it’s Tehran’s turn.

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Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius shake hands after a statement on early Nov. 24, 2013, in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
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The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the dissident group that in 2002 disclosed the heavy-water production facility at Arak and the underground uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz, charged in September 2005 that the Chinese trade in centrifuges continued into that year. That month, NCRI also accused China of secretly sending beryllium to Iran. This metal is used in neutron initiators to trigger nuclear weapons, and due to the surreptitious nature of the transfers, it is highly unlikely that Iran bought the material for civilian purposes. The allegation is consistent with other reports about Iran’s covert attempts to source beryllium at that time. In July 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported that the State Department had lodged formal protests with Beijing about Chinese companies, in violation of the first two Security Council resolutions on Iran, exporting to that country items that could help Tehran build nukes.

With regularity, officials in Asia have confiscated shipments of equipment and materials sold by Chinese state enterprises to Iranian companies in contravention of international treaties and U.N. rules. In March 2011, Malaysian police in Port Klang seized two containers from a ship en route to Iran from China. Authorities suspected that items labeled “goods used for liquid mixing or storage for pharmaceutical or chemical or food industry” were actually parts for nuclear warheads. Recently Chinese entities have been implicated in transfers of maraging steel, ring-shaped magnets, and valves and vacuum gauges, all apparently for use in Iran’s atom bomb effort.

There appears to have been a recent decline in direct Chinese shipments to the Iranian program, due to two factors. First, Beijing has already transferred most of what the “atomic ayatollahs” need for a splendid weapon. Second, the Chinese are, from all indications, letting the North Koreans take the lead proliferation role. Maybe that is why Fakhrizadeh was spotted in China on his way to North Korea for the regime’s third test.

Fakhrizadeh’s unimpeded passage through China tells us that, if there is such a thing as “managed proliferation,” the Chinese are its masters. Beijing, to borrow a Middle Kingdom metaphor, has been “killing with a borrowed knife.”  And it looks like it is boldly working both sides of the street. In the past, China used Pakistan to transfer nuclear weapons tech to Iran, and now it is employing North Korea for the same purpose. At the same time, it may be reactiving the Pakistani channel to aid’s Iran’s adversaries, especially Saudi Arabia. There are reports that Islamabad may transfer completed nukes to Riyadh, and any such move would almost certainly require Beijing’s approval. China itself signed a nuclear cooperation pact with the Saudis in 2012.

So, Pakistan and North Korea have done Beijing’s bidding.  Will Iran be tomorrow’s dagger for China? Whether or not the Chinese proliferate nuclear technology through the Iranians, there is one thing we know. “There is a circle of countries that want nuclear weapons,” says Rick Fisher, a leading analyst of the Chinese military, “and in the center of that circle of evil is China.”

Despite what Beijing would have us believe, China has not stopped playing “the proliferation card,” its most powerful tool for accomplishing its most important strategic objectives. And as much as we would like to think otherwise, the Chinese are willing to risk nuclear winter to get their way in the world. Today, they see the mullahs as a tool, so we should not be surprised that Beijing is arming them, even though they lead what could be the world’s most dangerous rogue regime.

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How China Is Behind the Nuclear Program of Iran—and Every Other Rogue State

Beijing proved masterful at enabling Pyongyang to expand its program, and did the same for Pakistan. Now it’s Tehran’s turn.

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