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Week of June 4, 1999

Week of June 4, 1999

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Cox Report Released


Since the release on May 25, 1999 of an unclassified version of a House select committee report (known as the Cox report for its chairman, Christopher Cox, R-CA) on allegations of Chinese spying, questions have been raised as to the appropriate nature of bilateral relations, the accuracy of the conclusions reached in the report and the responsibility of various American government agencies for serious lapses in security. The report’s conclusion that technology transfers, espionage and lapses in security at America’s nuclear laboratories have resulted in China’s acquisition of sufficient information to bring its nuclear program on par with that of the United States has been brought into question by the Chinese government, the Clinton Administration, members of Congress, some U.S. technology firms, the members of the intelligence community and the media. The report’s critics claim that the report over-states the threat and paints China as a military adversary for domestic political gains. The report’s supporters, however, charge their opponents with risking America’s national security for the sake of good relations with China.

In reaction to the report, both the Senate and the House have introduced amendments to the 2000 defense authorization bill to tighten export controls and security at the nation’s nuclear labs. While the Senate passed a set of initiatives sponsored by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) on May 27, 1999, the House was unable to agree on such measures before the Memorial Day recess.

In addition to proposing legislation, several members of Congress have called for the resignations of Attorney General Janet Reno and National Security Advisory Sandy Berger. Reno issued a statement defending herself against accusations that her department failed to adequately address national security concerns raised by the FBI in its investigation of possible espionage at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory. Reno admitted that her department should have briefed her on the details of the FBI’s request to wiretap the phone of scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is the target of the espionage investigation. But she supported the determinations reached by Department of Justice attorneys that the FBI did not provide sufficient evidence to warrant a wiretap. Sandy Berger also defended his actions and those of his staff publicly.

The Chinese government and media responded negatively to the report, describing it as a "return to McCarthyism" and an attempt to erode bilateral relations to prevent China’s development. The report has been linked in the Chinese press to the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and even to the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square as evidence of America’s intent to dominate China and the world. In support of its claim that China did not steal American defense secrets, the Chinese government aired a program which showed a Chinese researcher easily obtaining information on several U.S. missiles from American internet sites.

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June 4, 1999 marks the 10th Anniversary of the student-led demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. In the days leading up to this significant anniversary, Chinese authorities took steps to prevent the commemoration of the movement. More than 70 dissidents were recently detained for questioning, and about 28 remain in police custody. The government took other measures to stifle a new movement such as disconnecting CNN cable to avoid viewing programs on the Tiananmen legacy, clipping out articles from Western and Hong Kong newspapers, and closing off Tiananmen square for the month of June.

In a search for redress, over 100 relatives of the people killed ten years ago in the demonstrations are now petitioning through the government’s elementary legal system to open a criminal investigation of the officials responsible for the tragedy a decade ago. Knowing that the chances of success are minimal, the petitioners plan to seek an international legal forum, such as a UN tribunal, to investigate the Tiananmen incident.

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NTR Renewal Battle and China’s WTO Entry


On June 3 President Clinton sent his recommendation to Congress to once again extend China’s trading privileges with the U.S. Renewing normal trade relations (NTR) will be far more difficult this time around than at any point since the Tiananmen incident in 1989. Concerns surrounding Chinese espionage, the ever-increasing trade deficit, and China’s back-tracking on trade concessions reached during Zhu Rongji’s April 1999 visit will undoubtebly be scrutinized as Congress debates whether or not to renew trading privileges with China. Of equal deliberation will be the extent to which the U.S. should link national security to trade, as Clinton attempted to do with human rights early in his first term. Many believe that support for normal trade relations will continue to decline in the next few months.

To further complicate matters, China suspended talks with the U.S. on WTO entry as of May 7 because NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Conservative Chinese officials and others used this event to further criticize the Zhu Rongji for ‘selling out?China by offering to lift too many trade barriers and agreeing to a higher Western stake in joint-ventures last April. Given recent espionage accusations, conservatives in Congress wish to follow suit and further postpone WTO talks. Both reformers in China and the Clinton administration would like to reach an agreement that would bring China into the WTO by year’s end. However, heated debate in the U.S. over NTR renewal, combined with domestic pressure in China to limit the extent of cutting trade regulations, may mean that China will not enter the WTO this year.

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