The Trump administration has said that it would sharply restrict exports of civilian nuclear technology to China that officials here claimed was being diverted to power new generations of Chinese submarines, aircraft carriers and floating nuclear power plants.
The announcement mixed security warnings with long-standing complaints that Beijing was continuing to steal nuclear-related technology from US companies to benefit Chinese state-owned companies.
In a call with reporters, however, administration officials revealed little of the intelligence evidence that they said would back up their claims.
The move appeared to be part of a more concerted effort by the administration to put new pressure on China beyond the tariffs President Donald Trump has announced on Chinese goods.
The official alleged that China was already using nuclear power on man-made islands it created in the South China Sea.
“We know that they are developing platforms for use on these islands and for nuclear-powered icebreakers, also floating nuclear power plants, which give the potential for rapid deployment to any platform that it could be tethered to,” the official said.
In 2017, China imported nuclear technology worth USD 170 million from the US. The administration “carefully weighed” the economic impact, the official said.
Former president Barack Obama in 2015 signed off on an extension of nuclear cooperation between the United States and China, with his administration arguing that Beijing had moved to tighten controls as part of renewal negotiations.
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply, however, with Trump earlier Thursday vowing to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink in a trade war.