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Sunday, March 7, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China nuclear secrets row mounts

US technology may have helped China develop nuclear warheads

China has angrily denied an American newspaper report alleging that it stole nuclear secrets from the United States.

Duncan Hewitt: Accusations without foundation says Chinese foreign mnister
Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said in a news conference in Beijing that the report in the New York Times was "extremely irresponsible and unfounded".

The New York Times quoted Clinton administration officials as saying they believed China had used technology stolen from the Los Alamos defence laboratory in the 1980s to help develop and test miniaturized nuclear warheads.

Mr Tang blamed the reports on groups which he said were working against the interests of both countries.

"This demonstrates that there are always some people who want to obstruct the normal Sino-US trade relations and the normal export of US hi-tech products to China," he said.

US security steps

The Clinton administration has confirmed that the allegations have been under investigation.

US officials said President Bill Clinton was first told in 1997 that crucial information may have been stolen in the mid-1980s by Chinese agents.

"When presented with information of these allegations in 1997, we took a number of steps to improve security in a systematic and comprehensive way," said White House National Security Council spokesman David Leavy.

"Currently there is an ongoing investigation to determine if there was criminal conduct and we continue to assess the implications for national security," he said.

Chinese warning

Beijing, which has long demanded a lifting of restrictions on the transfer of legitimate technology, was recently angered by a US government decision to block the sale of a communications satellite to a Chinese-led consortium.

Duncan Hewitt reports: " An ultimate deterrent for Taiwan"
This followed a series of claims, some included in a Congressional report, that China had embarked on a concerted strategy of acquiring stolen US defence secrets.

There have been calls in Congress for the inclusion of Taiwan in a proposed US-backed Asian missile defence system, but the Chinese foreign minister reiterated Beijing's strong opposition to this idea, saying it would be an "infringement of China's territorial sovereignty".

He stressed that if it did go ahead, China would make what he called "a due and strong reaction" - an apparent reminder of Beijing's continuing threat to use force against Taiwan if the island should seek to declare formal independence.

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