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Week of August 13, 1999

Week of August 13, 1999

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DEFENSE: Senate report Criticizes Chinese Espionage Inquiry


On August 5th a bipartisan Senate committee chaired by Fred Thompson (R-TN), released a 32-page report that was highly critical of the Energy and Justice Departments? and the FBI’s handling of a four-year investigation into alleged nuclear espionage at the nation’s nuclear laboratories. At issue are the handling of an FBI request for a search warrant for the computer of a Los Alamos nuclear scientist at the center of this investigation and the rapid focus of the investigation on that scientist, Taiwan-born Wen Ho Lee. The report explained that the Los Alamos counter-intelligence officer failed to provide the FBI with the waiver that Mr. Lee had signed allowing partial monitoring of his computer activities, which would have made the FBI’s request to the Department of Justice for a search warrant a moot point. Despite this, Attorney-General Janet Reno stands by her agency’s determination that the FBI did not provide sufficient evidence to meet the test of probable cause that would allow the department to issue the search warrant.

On the charge that Lee committed espionage, the report contains evidence that both supports and erodes the claim. It contains evidence that the information China obtained in the mid-1990s on sensitive U.S. nuclear weapons has been available at other military and government sites since 1983. For that reason, the agencies involved may have overlooked other potential spies who might still be working in the U.S. government. Given a lack of direct evidence against Lee on the charge of espionage, prosecution against him may proceed only on the less serious charge of violating lab security procedures by allegedly transferring classified nuclear data into a non-classified computer system. The Senators who released the report have indicated that they hope the agencies involved will hold the appropriate officials responsible.

The House and Senate also reached agreement on August 6 on legislation to re-organize the nuclear weapons programs under the Department of Energy as a new agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration. The new structure, which will have a degree of autonomy, won Congressional approval as a means of streamlining communication from the secretary down through the bureaucratic levels. The Clinton Administration, however, has voiced its opposition to the legislation because it curtails the secretary’s authority. Because the legislation was placed within the Energy department’s appropriation legislation, a veto is unlikely.

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BUSINESS/TAIWAN: China Airlines Buys Planes from Boeing and Airbus


Resolving a controversy over an agreement between China Airlines of Taiwan and Boeing, the carrier has announced that it will purchase a number of cargo jets from Boeing and passenger planes from its European rival, Airbus. The 13 747-400 cargo jets and 7 A340-300 passenger planes represent the largest order in Taiwan’s history and is a sign of marked economic improvement. The purchase of planes from Airbus has been characterized as a deliberate decision by the 71% state-owned China Airlines to note its disappointment with U.S. policy in the wake of President Lee Teng-hui’s enunciation of "special state-to-state" relations with Beijing in early July. The current deal, however, is designed to please all three companies involved and their respective governments.

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FREEDOM OF RELIGION: China Bars Hong Kong Visit of Pope


On August 9th the Chinese government in Beijing announced that due to diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Taiwan, Pope John Paul II would be barred from visiting Hong Kong during his Asian tour later this year. A statement issued in the name of government spokesman Stephen Lam said that "it would only be appropriate to discuss the proposed visit after the Central People’s Government (in Beijing) and the Vatican have resolved the relevant issues." This statement comes at a time when cross strait relations are particularly strained. Hong Kong SAR government officials have stated that the ban on the Pope is strictly a foreign policy issue. Any relations with the Pope, recognized at the Vatican head of state, technically fall under this category, over which Beijing has jurisdiction.

Pope John Paul II has maintained an unofficial envoy in Hong Kong since the handover despite the lack of relations between the Vatican and Beijing. Monsignor Frederick Filoni is an unofficial diplomat technically described as stationed at the Vatican Embassy in Manila. This role stems from the posting to Hong Kong in 1989 of Monsignor Jean Paul Gobel as "the first secretary in China affairs of the papal nunciature in Manila."

The Vatican embarked on a diplomatic campaign to secure a Hong Kong visit for the Pope, only to be rejected by Beijing. According to Dr. Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, a Catholic nun and an expert on Sino-Vatican relations, whenever the pontiff met with overseas Chinese at the Holy See in Rome, he expressed a desire to visit the mainland. In May of last year several Asian bishops meeting in the Vatican recommended that the Pope consider visiting Hong Kong. This set in motion a series of discussions and even a controversial appeal from Cardinal of State Angelo Sodano, the Pope’s senior diplomat, for Beijing to allow an apostolic nunciature, or embassy, to be opened there. Speaking at a reception in February, Cardinal Sodano stated that the Vatican was prepared to shift its diplomatic mission from Taipei to Beijing.

This statement was a major shift in the Vatican’s foreign policy, although Cardinal Sodano assured that it would not mean breaking relations with Taiwan. However, China has not carried out diplomatic relations with any state concurrently maintaining official diplomatic relations with Taipei. These offers have been rejected by Beijing, although the Vatican has expressed a desire to improve relations with the mainland.

An even greater obstacle to the relationship may be concern among Chinese leaders about the potential moral authority of the Pope over the 10 million Catholics in China. According to Dr. Leung, an associate professor of political science at Lingnan College, the Chinese Communist Party fears "religion will replace the party in the hearts of the people." China is officially atheist and bans Christian worship outside the "patriotic churches" set up under communist party control. Many Chinese leaders are also very aware of the role the Catholic Church played in the downfall of Communist rule in Poland in 1989. After the recent crackdown on Falun Gong, a Buddhist-based spiritual movement that has gained millions of followers throughout China, these fears have been sharpened.

Pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong said Beijing’s refusal was a break from Britain’s pre-handover policies and set further limits to Hong Kong’s autonomy under Chinese rule. Beijing has been hesitant to exercise control over foreign and defense issues until this year when it banned U.S. warships and military aircraft from Hong Kong after NATO bombs accidentally hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on May 7.

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