Making China stronger harms U.S. interests

Espionage: Congressional report shows grave deficiencies in response to decades of spying.

May 27, 1999

THE HOUSE of Representatives panel studying the arms-technology hemorrhage to China has compiled a massive, serious report that cries out for careful response.

Highest priority must go to plugging technology leaks without damaging national interests.

The committee, led by Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican, performed a conscientious investigation, keeping out of partisan battles. Much remains classified. Some in the intelligence community believe the panel made worst-case interpretations of inconclusive data.

Military cooperation with China began during the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. The desire to strengthen China against a common adversary -- the Soviet Union -- was not properly reassessed after the Soviet collapse.

According to the committee, China has been pillaging this country's nuclear-weapons information. China is a huge country, with talented scientists. Beijing can throw vast resources at chosen projects, as Moscow did earlier.

No one should be surprised that China would use improved relations with the United States to ferret out nuclear secrets, exploiting the open society, business connections and classic espionage. China remains a Communist monolith, suspicious of the outside world.

China's military growth should be discouraged. It is destabilizing and potentially threatening to Taiwan, Japan and India. That China would wish to move up the armaments scale is natural. To help it do so is contrary to U.S. interests.

The report credits no deployed weapon in China's arsenal to espionage. The danger remains somewhat theoretical.

Publication of this report makes the Sino-U.S. relationship more difficult to manage. Cooperation is inescapably delayed, even on nonmilitary economic cooperation in the U.S. interest.

Commercial technology transfers should be scrutinized rigorously; errant U.S. companies disciplined; Chinese front companies identified. Security must be tightened at the Energy Department's weapons laboratories. Communications within the U.S. government need drastic improvement. Chinese manipulations of the U.S. political process must be investigated wherever that trail leads.

The House committee has raised an alarm. Although much remains classified, 38 recommendations demand thoughtful discussion and decision.

Hysteria only hurts. Engagement with Beijing must be maintained, as it was with Moscow during the height of the Cold War. The Clinton administration has been sloppy at best. This is still a dangerous world.

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