Washington (AFP) - The United States said Thursday that it will increasingly restrict exports of civilian nuclear technology to China for fear it will be stolen for economic benefit or diverted to military use.
"The United States cannot ignore the national security implications of China's efforts to obtain nuclear technology outside of established processes of US-China civil nuclear cooperation," Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement.
The measures are the latest salvo in a widening US drive to pressure China, with President Donald Trump's administration recently slapping $250 billion in tariffs on goods from the Asian power.
The United States will still allow civilian nuclear exports to China but they will face growing scrutiny, officials said.
In particular, the Energy Department said there "will be a presumption of denial" for new licenses related to the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp.
The company was indicted last year along with a naturalized US citizen on charges of conspiring to develop sensitive nuclear material with US know-how without going through the required approval process.
The US already carefully reviews nuclear exports through the Energy Department's so-called Part 810 authorizations, which verify if the technology goes to peaceful use and will not be sent to a third country.
"For decades China has maintained a concerted, central government-run strategy to acquire nuclear technology to gain economic advantage," a US official said on condition of anonymity.
The official acknowledged that China, which is racing to expand clean energy capacity to keep up with fast-rising demand, remained important as a nuclear export market.
"We understand that the US industry may suffer in the short term from this decision," he said.
"However, China's concerted effort to emulate and displace US nuclear products could cause the permanent loss of global markets and domestic jobs in the long run," he 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.