Sunday, December 31, 2006

Translation: France provided nuclear assistance to Taiwan in the 1970s, according to secret British document

There was an interesting article in the Nikkei on friday about French involvement in Taiwanese nuclear development. Taiwan began developing nuclear weapons in 1967, just three years after the People's Republic's first successful nuclear test at Lop Nor in 1964. The program apparently continued apace even after Taiwan lost its United Nations Security Council seat and diplomatic recognition around most of the world in 1971. Taipei publicly bowed to U.S. pressure to end their weapons development program in 1976 when Chiang Ching-Guo announced it would stop reprocessing plutonium at Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology's Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER). Despite this public statement, the Taiwanese secretly continued nuclear development for another decade. After a high-level defection to the U.S. and being caught violating their safegaurds by the IAEA, Taiwan finally dismantled their only pressurized heavy water reactor in 1988. Since Taiwan did not have the indigenous physical or intellectual resources needed for a nuclear program, it had to go fishing far and wide for assistance. The extent of foreign involvement is pretty well know thanks to the efforts of groups like NTI, FAS, and the National Security Archive, but apparently the British have more to say on the subject: France provided nuclear assistance to Taiwan in the 1970s, according to secret British documents December 29, 2006
Secret documents declassified by the National Archives of the United Kingdom on the 29th of December revealed that France supported Taiwanese facilities used to reprocess nuclear fuel into weapons grade uranium when Taiwan had an active nuclear weapons program in the 1970s. The UK considered the possibility of providing limited assistance to the Taiwanese nuclear program, but ultimately decided against it. Antognized by the advent of Mainland China's nuclear arsenal, Taiwan attempted a crash nuclear weapons program, but the U.S. pressured Taipei into ending the program because of the impact it would have on its relations with China and the cross-strait military balance. Since the U.S. would not provide positive cooperation, there was evidence that the European nuclear powers Britain and France might if their support was sought. [ed. That is one messy passive sentence in Japanese] Although the details of France's support are not known, it was possible for the French to broach the subject because they were not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty at the time (France didn't sign until 1992). [ed. Taiwan was effectively expelled from the NPT when the People's Republic of China took Taipei's seat at the United Nationsin 1971] According to the secret documents, a May 1974 Joint Intelligence Committee meeting of representatives from all of Britain's intelligence agencies drew up a report that expressed its doubts about the Taiwan's nuclear development. Then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who read this report, asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if an offer of materials used for nuclear weapons development would be a violation of the NPT. In a report regarding French support to Taiwan, the FCO response was "The exporting nuclear materials is possible." Prime Minister Wilson reportly conveyed a concen that "Taiwanese acquisition of nuclear weapons would invite the risk of global instability." Then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan said to the Prime Minister in March 1976 that the UK must follow through on Taiwanese expressions of interest in importing British nuclear materials and technology because it was possible to arrange a deal that would not result in proliferation. Wilson responded doubtfully, "Are the Secretary's ideas really prudent?" Soon after, James Callaghan became Prime Minister. In April of 1976, he stated that Britain "should not make any deal with Taiwan that would further their nuclear weapons program in any way," which marked a fundamental shift in his position.
I've been digging around the UK National Archives website , but I haven't had much luck finding the documents that the article references - it may take a while for the documents to be promulgated online. I had a little trouble getting the last sentence in the second to last paragraph to work in English, so I'd like to see if my translation is even close to what actually happened. Interestingly enough, I haven't found analogous articles about this revelation in either British or English-language Taiwanese new sources. If any of my Francophone readers happen to find something in the French media on this topic.

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