China's Agents of Influence

By Waller, J. Michael | Insight on the News, May 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

China's Agents of Influence


Waller, J. Michael, Insight on the News


Communist China is using the weight and strength of U.S. business -- including some of the nation's largest defense contractors -- to promote its military and security goals.

It used to be that in the China debate the giants of the U.S. business community argued strongly to separate national-security issues from trade. Now big business is doing what it always argued against by opposing national-security legislation at Beijing's behest. In an elegant act of political jujitsu, Communist China now is using the weight and strength of U.S. business -- including some of the nation's largest defense contractors -- to promote its own military and security goals.

The shift, under way for years, has emerged during the last few months as big business and related interest groups weighed in against legislation designed to cement the long-standing U.S. security relationship with the Republic of China on Taiwan. Last October, when the House International Relations Committee voted a lopsided 32-6 for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, or TSEA, the business lobbies that had focused almost purely on Red China trade issues sprang into action. They pressed the House Republican leadership to pull the bill lest it be called for a full vote of the House and to postpone consideration until later. The GOP leadership caved.

"The American business community has crossed a Rubicon in pursuit of its deepening relationship with the Chinese government," wrote liberal Los Angeles Times columnist and respected China watcher Jim Mann. "For the first time, American corporations have waged an intensive Washington lobbying campaign in seeming support of China on an issue that has no direct connection to trade, investment or other economic matters in which the U.S. business community has an obvious interest. The effort has succeeded for now, but its troubling ramifications may haunt the business community for years to come."

Now, the TSEA is back. Early this year it sailed through the House and is awaiting Senate consideration as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and other business groups launch another attack in support of Red China.

Seasoned security experts are deeply concerned. Al Santoli, a senior adviser to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, and one of the most informed China experts on Capitol Hill, points to a recent joint CIA-FBI report to Congress on Communist Chinese espionage that says, "The Chinese government continues to seek influence in Congress through various means, including inviting congressional members to the PRC [People's Republic of China], lobbying ethnic Chinese voters and prominent U.S. citizens and engaging U.S. business interests to weigh in on issues of mutual concern."

The intelligence report appears to refer to elder statesmen with decades-long business ties to China's Communist leaders and to corporate giants such as the Boeing Co., Chrysler Corp., General Motors and Motorola that have made an indelible mark on the China-policy debate. "When American business lobbied Congress on China policy in the past, one could believe that corporate America was not doing China's bidding but rather was protecting its own interests," writes Mann. With the lobby campaign against reaffirming the U.S. security relationship with Taiwan, he argues, "this distinction is not so clear anymore."

Seduced by visions of selling consumer products to 1 billion Chinese, many business figures, including former national-security leaders who built personal relations with Communist officials, have moved from simply pushing policies that would increase trade with China to becoming, in effect, agents of influence for the Beijing regime. One of the most prominent is Boeing, the civilian jetliner manufacturer and Pentagon contractor. With potential 12-figure Chinese aircraft orders at stake, Boeing's concern is understandable, as some of its critics admit.

Beijing has exploited that concern to the hilt. …

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