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Trade Dollars Might Finance Military Power

China: Beijing is building up its navy and positioning itself to control commercial shipping.

May 22, 2000|ROBERT L. MAGINNIS | Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis is the Family Research Council's vice president for national security and foreign affairs

Supporters of permanent normal trade relations with China believe that trade will transform that nation into a democratic, capitalist republic. Opponents contend favorable trade will help China become a dangerous adversary.

Our government's premier concern must be national security. That's why the pending normal relations decision must be based on our best guess as to how improved trade relations will influence China's future military course. Based on China's recent actions, our trade dollars may very well help China threaten our national security interests long before they transform that country into a democratic republic.

A 1999 Clinton administration report says China's future goal is "parity in economic, political and military strength with the world's leading powers by the middle of the next century." In spite of this, President Clinton has labeled China our "strategic partner." Not surprisingly, the Communist Chinese see our relationship differently. China's defense minister, Gen. Chi Haotian, has stated that war with the United States is "inevitable."

Consider China's recent expansive reach across the world's oceans. It appears to be positioning itself commercially and militarily along key naval choke points as it builds its navy. The China Ocean Shipping Co., owned by the People's Republic of China, is the second-largest shipping company in the world. It has ties to China's People's Liberation Army and is, according to retired Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "the merchant marine arm of the PLA."

The China Ocean Shipping Co. already has a large presence in Singapore as well as at Port Klang, a Malaysian facility that guards the Strait of Malacca. Supertankers and U.S. warships from the Persian Gulf regularly pass through the strait into the South China Sea, which China claims as sovereign territory. The South China Sea is home to 200 islands, where China has seven permanent military outposts. China also operates a major satellite-tracking station on Tarawa in the central Pacific.

China's commercial agents now control the Panama Canal. Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., working with 100,000 Chinese nationals, has exclusive rights to the ports on both ends of the canal. Seventy percent of the traffic that passes through the canal is bound for the United States. Hutchison-Whampoa is headed by billionaire Li Ka-shing, who has close ties to Beijing's leaders. Former Premier Li Peng recently said the canal is of "unique significance" and that Panama has a "vital strategic importance." Additionally, China has growing influence with the Bahamas and a security and intelligence presence in Cuba.

In April, Chinese President Jiang Zemin met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hammer out an agreement that permits China access to Port Said, Egypt, the gateway to the Suez Canal. This agreement gives China access to the world's busiest waterway and an important transit route for U.S. aircraft carriers.

On the Indian Ocean, China is building an inland waterway between China and Rangoon, Myanmar, that would provide access to the Bay of Bengal.

In late 1999, the Chinese armed forces practiced mock beach invasions using large troop-carrying helicopters and small hovercraft for high-speed delivery of up to 25 soldiers. In early 2000, Chinese forces conducted amphibious landing exercises that involved several hundred marines and numerous naval landing craft, but no large ships.

China's navy is undergoing a dramatic modernization. The recent addition of the $500-million, Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer, equipped with a nuclear-capable anti-ship missile, is a technological leap for China that provides a new dimension to China's modest navy: the ability to confront U.S. aircraft carriers. A second destroyer arrives this fall.

China's new destroyers join a fleet of perhaps 14 Russian-built Kilo-class submarines. Also, the Chinese are building a new nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles that could reach the entire United States.

China has purchased the Kiev, a Russian aircraft carrier that is being updated. China also has committed funding to begin building its first domestically constructed carrier. Each carrier could carry 36 Chinese-produced versions of the Russian SU-27 fighter.

Communist China is becoming a great power. The United States should not naively grant normal relations when we know that more dollars in China's pockets will feed that nation's expansionist aims while providing no guarantees that human rights will improve or that China's markets will expand for American products.

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