Anti-China sentiment grows amid influence-peddling charges Companies, politicians with ties to Chinese face widespread criticism

March 24, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- Allegations of foreign meddling in U.S. political campaigns have triggered a wave of anti-China sentiment and turned doing business with China into a high-risk occupation.

U.S. companies are being attacked as tools of the Chinese government. Politicians are being criticized for meeting Chinese business people. And in California, a modest port development project involving a Chinese government-owned shipping line has become a target of congressional scrutiny and a nationwide hate mail campaign.

As the mood in Congress worsens, the prospects for granting China permanent Most Favored Nation trade status and membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) -- long regarded as steps that would help bring China into the community of nations -- grow increasingly slim.

Figures as diverse as House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat who reintroduced legislation Thursday requiring congressional approval of China's admission to the WTO, and conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan are campaigning against giving China those trade privileges.

The gradual opening of China's enormous market has created a land rush among the aerospace, chemical, automotive, energy and other industries increasingly dependent on growth overseas. Many of them feel caught in the middle.

"If you're selling to China you're out there in a big way," said Peter Bowe, president of Baltimore-based Ellicott Machine Corp., dredging machine manufacturer exporting to Asia.

China's critics represent an eclectic coalition of special-interest groups, from environmentalists, labor leaders and human rights activists to neo-isolationists and anti-Communists. Articles painting China as the global threat of the '90s have appeared recently in the liberal magazine New Republic, the conservative Weekly Standard, and Foreign Affairs, the bible of foreign policy discourse.

David Tang, a Seattle attorney who specializes in China trade, said China's critics are casting too wide a net by treating all Chinese economic activity as suspect.

"Our elected leaders are going to be very reticent, very hesitant, to meet with any foreign businessmen and hesitant to meet anybody from the Asian community for fear they may be tainted," Tang said.

Vice President Al Gore's trip this week to China has become highly sensitive, given charges that the White House was the target of Chinese influence-peddling. Gore is reportedly debating whether it is appropriate to attend a ceremony announcing the sale of Boeing 777s during his visit.

In the past, the White House has happily taken credit for U.S. airplane sales abroad because they often create jobs, and political benefit, back home.

"If the Chinese government and Boeing agree to a contract and (( inform the vice president, he would be pleased to witness a signing ceremony in China," said Jonathan Spalter, a Gore spokesman.

As he headed for Asia on Saturday, Gore said he plans to discuss the influence-peddling issue with Chinese officials.

Asked whether he believes that the accusations would seriously affect U.S.-Sino relations, Gore said: "I hate to use a cliche: Time will tell." The odds are that the issue is merely the hot topic of

the hour and will blow over, he added.

Frank Martin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said he fears the political heat is causing U.S. politicians to pull back from Asia at a time when they need more, rather than less, exposure to the region. He said his office has been contacted recently by politicians debating the wisdom of traveling to Hong Kong and China in the present political climate.

Aides to House Speaker Newt Gingrich say he is is proceeding with his plans to take a large congressional delegation to Korea, Hong Kong, Tokyo and China over the Easter recess. But under pressure from conservatives upset that Taiwan, which the mainland considers a renegade province, was being slighted, he added a visit to Taipei to his itinerary.

In Long Beach, a plan to lease an abandoned Navy base to China Ocean Shipping Co., or Cosco, for a 145-acre container terminal -- previously opposed on environmental grounds -- has become a lightning rod for sometimes ugly anti-China sentiment.

Port officials are fighting efforts by conservatives who say it would be tantamount to turning over Long Beach to the Chinese dTC military. Cosco, which has been calling on Long Beach since 1981, is China's state-owned carrier. Last year, a cache of confiscated assault rifles was smuggled into Oakland aboard a Cosco vessel, though the shipping company was not charged in the incident.

U.S. Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Duncan Hunter, both California Republicans, have asked the Navy to put a halt to the project until Congress can conduct a review of the security implications.

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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