A controversial U.S.-China agreement on nuclear cooperation, initialed during President Reagan's trip to China in 1984, finally came into force this week. The agreement opens the way for the U.S. nuclear industry to compete with European and Japanese firms for billions of dollars in contracts during the next few years. It should also make the Chinese more sensitive to international concerns over nuclear-weapons proliferation than would have been the case without it.
The agreement encountered strong resistance in the Senate because of reports that China had assisted Pakistan's nuclear-weapons development program, and because the Chinese refused to go beyond generalized language pledging not to help other nations acquire or develop nuclear weapons.
The fact of life is that China itself is already a nuclear power; nothing that the United States does or does not do will change that. It is also a fact that the Japanese and European nuclear suppliers have clearly been willing to take whatever business that U.S. companies had to forgo because of American law. Finally, considering the potential importance of the nuclear agreement to China's energy-development plans, the pact gives Washington leverage on Chinese actions that it would not otherwise have.
It is important, however, that this leverage be used, with special regard to making sure that the Chinese have ended whatever aid they were giving to the Pakistani nuclear-weapons program.