In May 1999, Congress released a report detailing evidence that China had spied on the United States for twenty years. The Cox report, named after Republican Christopher Cox who headed the House committee that released it, claims that Chinese agents stole information about every nuclear weapon currently deployed by the United States and that China could use this information to improve their own nuclear capabilities. Many of the thefts occurred at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, but the report also states that U.S. companies such as Hughes Electronics Corporation may have inadvertently given away some U.S. secrets when they launched satellites aboard Chinese rockets.
Not surprisingly, the nuclear espionage scandal outraged many Americans. Critics of U.S. foreign policy cited the incident as proof that China is seeking to gain a military advantage over the United States. Some politicians, such as House Republican Tom DeLay, also used the incident to question “whether the president and vice president deliberately ignored the reality of Chinese spying and theft because they had ulterior economic and political motives,” referring to illegal campaign contributions the Democratic party received from Chinese donors in the 1996 presidential race.
However, some argue that the Cox report provides little evidence for its broad claims of espionage. Stephen L. Schwartz of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists asks, “If China has been diligently swiping our technological secrets for the past 20 years . . . why is it still using military hardware it designed in the 1960s and 1970s?” Others contend that China should not be demonized because of the spy scandal; Michael Klare, professor of peace and world studies at Hampshire College, maintains that “China, like every other country in the world, spies. . . . There is nothing unusually sinister about this.”
The Los Alamos spy scandal is just one incident inciting debate over China. The authors in the following chapter consider China’s strategic goals and its military capabilities as they consider whether China poses a threat to U.S. interests around the globe.