The disclosure that a scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory may have provided information to China in the 1980s that assisted the country in producing miniaturized nuclear warheads has added fuel to heated Congressional debate over China policy. Several members of Congress have criticized Clinton and his Administration for failing to take action in June 1996, when the alleged espionage was discovered to avoid jeopardizing bilateral ties. While Clinton has denied this charge and defended the actions of his administration, members of Congress have proposed legislation that would call for an independent investigation of the Energy Departmentís regulation of the labs and the suspension of federal scientific exchanges.
In testimony before a House panel in early March, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argued that the theft should not dominate efforts to remain engaged with Beijing on a variety of issues.
Republicans have strongly questioned the engagement policy. In a March 10 editorial in the Washington Post Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) recommended that, "Long before the Chinese prime minister arrives in Washington next month, we had best reach some conclusions on precisely what kind of relationship we should pursue with the Chinese. Decisions regarding how to address Chinaís increasingly aggressive regional and nuclear posture will have to be made calmly but promptly." The espionage charge has spilled over into trade relations, with Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) distributing a letter to all senators which said, "The continuing problems with Chinese human rights violations, espionage and possible technology transfers suggest that this is not the appropriate time for China to enter the WTO." Representative Richard Armey (R-TX), a member of the Republican leadership, added, "There is a growing unrest, and I believe it's on both sides of the aisle, about China."
Arguing for a different approach, Senator John Warner (R-VA) was quoted as saying, "It seems to me it's a hit, it's a loss, a terrible blow to our posture, but I think to just suddenly pull back from all engagement is not in the best interest of this country."