Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 03:30 GMT 04:30 UK
Clinton pledges to plug leaks
Los Alamos laboratory is at the centre of the scandal
President Clinton has promised to do more to protect American nuclear secrets in the wake of a damning Congressional report which said China had been stealing US technology for decades.
But he defended his policy of engagement with Beijing as being in the national interest.
Beijing could begin testing advanced thermonuclear weapons as early as this year and deploy them by the year 2002, says the report.
The three-year investigation concludes that despite high-level knowledge of the leaks, little was done to tighten controls.
President Clinton responded by saying his administration was already "moving aggressively to tighten security" at US nuclear laboratories.
Thirty of the committee's 36 recommendations have already been accepted by the White House.
President Clinton says he has already approved
But he said that without his policy of constructive engagement, Beijing would not have been brought into efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
China still 'far behind'
Government officials have challenged some of the report's findings. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson denied the assertion that Chinese nuclear technology was now up to US standards.
"China is not up to par with the United States on nuclear development. It is far behind us. There is no evidence that that is changing," he added.
And he said that the report was completed last year and did not include "dramatic steps" taken since last autumn to improve security.
"We have plugged the leaks. What I am saying is we've corrected the problems," he told CNN.
Congressman Chris Cox, who led the investigation, said China could also pass on the technology to regimes which were less stable.
Many analysts say the case appears to be the most serious breach of nuclear security since the Soviet Union stole atom bomb secrets in the 1940s.
Cohen drops China trip
Just hours after the report's publication the Pentagon announced that US Defence Secretary William Cohen had dropped plans to visit China next month because of heightened tensions between the two countries.
"It probably is not the easiest time to visit China," his spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, alluding to the spy allegations and the mistaken Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
And in another development likely to sharpen Sino-American tensions, the House of Representatives has voted unanimously for a resolution commemorating the 10th anniversary of China's suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Bejing.