A STING OPERATION by the Customs Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has closed a pipeline of illegal assault rifles into this country for the use of murderers, drug lords, extorters and organized crime. And it has thrown an embarrassing monkey wrench into China-U.S. trade, which has too many already.
The 16-month operation ended with the arrest of seven persons and seizure of 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles and additional weapons. A Taiwan native resident in California, named Hammond Ku, is accused as the ring-leader on the American end. The sting failed to lure manufacturers' officials from mainland China to where they might be arrested.
The catch is that those men supposedly represent two firms, China Northern Industries and Poly Technologies, run by the Chinese state and closely tied to very senior Chinese officials. The companies deny involvement.
Federal agents making the sting posed as organized crime figures from Miami and made no bones about wanting the weapons for criminal activities. Court papers detail a scheme of third-country ports, false bills of lading and obliteration of Chinese markings on weapons in favor of fake Korean markings. The sale of larger military weapons was discussed.
True or false, the allegations add difficulties to President Clinton's effort to extend most favored nation trading status to China for 12 months. The firms, one huge and directly state-controlled, the other with a son-in-law of Deng Xiaoping as chief executive, resemble the firms implicated in copyright piracy.
Most-favored-nation status is the basis from which the U.S. should conduct its trade disputes with China, but Beijing is making it harder. Like copyright piracy, illicit arms exports raise two questions. One is whether China's intentions are malevolent. The other is whether Beijing is capable of policing well-connected citizens and clamping limits on the military.
Pub Date: 5/28/96