Despite a 2005 Newspoll which found that 53% of
Australians oppose uranium sales to China, with just 31% in favour, the Howard
government is negotiating a bilateral uranium export agreement with China’s
Communist regime.

The negotiations provoked a ferocious editorial in the Taipei Times on 21
January: “One can almost hear the Australian government’s
saliva collecting in its mouth at the prospect of selling billions of dollars of
uranium from its huge reserves to an eager customer for decades to come. Never
mind that the customer is an unstable Third World despot with a big chip on its
shoulder – and the owner of nuclear warheads …”

The negotiations have also been criticised by Chinese
democracy and human rights advocates. Yu Jie, from the Beijing-based human
rights advocate with the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, wrote in the SMH on 10 February: “Australian authorities blithely plan to export
uranium ore to this highly dangerous regime … believing a series of agreements
… that this uranium ore will not be used for military purposes. But when have
the Communist Party authorities genuinely respected international
agreements?”

That scepticism is also evident in a feature article by
Paul Davey in the 1 February Bulletin, a page-one article by journalist
Dan Box in The Australian on January 18, and opinion pieces published in
the Herald Sun and the Canberra Times.

China has an appalling human rights record, and still
ranks in the worst ten countries in the world for press freedom, so there’s
little chance of whistle-blowers or the media reporting the diversion of
Australian uranium to Chinese WMDs.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General
Mohamed El Baradei described the Agency’s inspection regime as “fairly limited”
in a February 2005 speech. All the more so given that China, as a nuclear
weapons state, is not subject to full scope IAEA safeguards and Alexander Downer
is not insisting that China agree to strengthened safeguards known as Additional
Protocols.

Uranium sales to China would set a poor precedent. Will
we now sell uranium to all repressive, secretive military states, or just some,
or just China?

Peter Fray

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