U.S. closely monitoring Asian chemical black market

U.S. closely monitoring Asian chemical black market

By Masakatsu Ota

TOKYO, June 2 Kyodo- The U.S. government has been closely monitoring an alleged black market led by one Chinese national, who has been subject to U.S. sanctions at least six times since the late 1990s for exporting chemical weapon-related materials to Iran, former and current U.S. government officials told Kyodo News.

”Q.C. Chen is a serial proliferator of chemical weapons capabilities,” said a former U.S. senior official who was in charge of the issue. ”He’s a Chinese national. I couldn’t tell you where he is, but he operates out of China.”

”He works out of China and he facilitates the export of technologies that are directly linked to chemical weapons capabilities” to Iran, he added.

The former U.S. official called Chen, whose formal name is Qingchang Chen, ”the A.Q. Khan of chemical weapons,” using the name of a notorious figurehead of the ruptured nuclear black market which exported parts of a centrifuge, the main equipment for producing nuclear-weapon grade uranium.

The nuclear network led by Khan had connections with North Korea, Iran and Libya, stirring up worldwide concern and outrage when their secret deal with Libya was exposed in 2003. Khan, a Pakistani scientist, is also known as the father of Pakistani atomic bomb programs.

In January, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, an intelligence wing of the U.S. Defense Department, reported to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Chen headed a ”WMD-related supplier network,” which ”operated various supplier organizations over the past several years.” WMD stands for weapons of mass destruction.

One current U.S. official working on WMD nonproliferation recently said, ”He is still on our radar,” even though he declined to reveal details of Chen’s network because of intelligence reasons.

The official indicated the U.S. government has raised Chen’s case to the Chinese authorities in order to prevent further activities each time U.S. sanctions were imposed on him.

”We have no information about Chen,” one Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. The ministry has started to collect information about Chen, because serial proliferation of WMD-related materials and equipments might have a potential impact on its own and regional security.

According to the recent report of the bipartisan U.S. Congressional Research Service obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, a U.S. think tank, Chen was sanctioned in May 1997 because of exporting ”dual-use chemical precursors, equipment, and/or technology to Iran,” which is prohibited by the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Export Administration Act.

Chen has been sanctioned since then until December 2004 on and off based on these laws and the Iran Nonproliferation Act. But, the congressional report pointed out that there was ”no economic effect” because of the absence of U.S. government contracts with Chen as well as arms sales or dual-use exports from Chen to U.S. companies.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and undersecretary of state on WMD nonproliferation, said during the interview with Kyodo News in February, ”He was with I think a number of different companies.”

”I mean this is one of the problems of trying to impose sanctions on Chinese entities, particularly those that are owned by the (Chinese) People’s Liberation Army because they change their names and I think he was singled out because he was a serial proliferator and a real problem,” he added.

Asked whether Chen has had any connection with North Korea that the U.S. government thinks has chemical weapons, Bolton replied, ”I noticed the North Korean firm is sanctioned in there and so it wouldn’t be surprising because we know the North Koreans are chemical weapons proliferators as well. This is one of the issues we’ve raised with China repeatedly.”

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