Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

DATE=11/24/1999
TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP
TITLE=IS PANAMA CANAL FALLING UNDER CHINESE CONTROL?
NUMBER=6-11568
BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE
DATELINE=WASHINGTON
EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS
TELEPHONE=619-3335
CONTENT=
INTRO:  On the 31st of December, at 12 noon local time, 
the Panama Canal, one of the engineering wonders of 
the 20th Century, will be turned over to Panamanian 
control.
The huge waterway, linking the Atlantic and Pacific 
oceans through the narrow isthmus of Panama, was built 
by the United States and has been operated by 
Washington since its completion in 1914.  The canal 
reduces the shipping distance between New York and San 
Francisco from 20-thousand-900 kilometers to just 83-
hundred and 70.
Panama and the United States signed a pair of treaties 
in 1977 replacing the original treaty under which the 
canal was built.  The new pact gave Panama control 
over the Canal Zone in 1979, and set the turnover date 
of the canal itself as the end of this year.
Then as now, there is significant, but minority, 
opposition in this country to giving Panama control of 
such a strategic waterway.  And in the past few weeks, 
a new controversy has arisen.  Republican Senate 
leader Trent Lott and others are charging that the 
Chinese government will be gaining undue control over 
the canal at the turnover.  The charge results from 
Panama's awarding a contract for operating the canal's 
two main ports to a Hong Kong-based company that 
operates worldwide.
Many U-S newspapers have been skeptical of the 
supposed threat, as we hear now from the Tulsa 
(Oklahoma) World:
VOICE:  Sound bites and scare words drive much of 
today's politics.  But here's one that's going to be 
tough to sell:  Hutchison Whampoa Limited.  It's the 
latest attempt by some politicians to torpedo 
[Editors: in this case "defeat"] the long-standing 
Panama Canal Treaty.  The controversial treaty was 
signed by Jimmy Carter and ratified in the U-S Senate 
with the support of senators . who bucked jingoist 
[Editors: extreme nationalistic] sentiment for the 
United States to keep the canal. . Now, two decades 
later . the anti-treaty forces are once again alarmed.  
The problem, as seen by some, is that Hong Kong-based 
Hutchison Whampoa will operate two ports at either end 
of the canal.  Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott fears 
that "U-S naval ships will be at the mercy" of a 
puppet of Beijing.  Even more radical Republicans 
claim that China has made the deal with Panama in 
order to expand its influence into the Americas.  
[Senator] Lott ought to know better.  Hutchison 
Whampoa is a publicly traded corporation with 19 ports 
around the world.  Its reputation in the business is 
flawless.  The company will have no control over any 
ship traveling through the canal; the Panamanian 
government retains that control and is bound by 
stipulations of the [new] agreement.   . Stirring up 
the canal issue is pure mischief on the part of 
[Senator] Lott and Co.
TEXT:  Still in the Southwestern United States, Salt 
Lake City's [Utah] Deseret [EDITORS:  DEZ uh ray] News 
also considers the fears ill founded, noting:
VOICE:  The fight over whether to keep the canal under 
U-S ownership was waged and decided in the 1970s.  
Although many conservatives opposed the transfer at 
that time, subsequent Republican presidents and 
congresses, including President Ronald Reagan, made no 
attempts to rescind it.  To bring it up again now, on 
the eve of the transfer, does little good.  It 
demonstrates a supreme lack of understanding.  
Critics, including former Defense Secretary Casper 
Weinberger, say [Mr. Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong 
businessman who owns Hutchison Whampoa's parent 
company] now has no choice but to do the Chinese 
government's bidding, and that Hutchison Port Holdings 
easily could become a base for collecting important 
intelligence.  That is difficult to believe.  The 
company will have no control or authority over the 
ships that travel the canal.  . Yes, some legitimate 
questions have been raised about irregularities in the 
bidding process that gave Hutchison its contract two 
years ago.  These ought to be carefully investigated.  
But Congress should quit worrying about the Red Army 
invading the canal.
TEXT:  Taking the other side in this dispute is 
retired Navy Admiral Thomas Moorer, a former chairman 
of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff.  At a 
Washington news conference, widely reported in the U-S 
press, Admiral Moorer said China plans to seize 
control of the canal through the Hong Kong company.  
He is worried that China could fire mobile, nuclear 
missiles at the United States from a base in Panama, 
made possible by the Hong Kong company's operation.
VOICE:  . consequently, we have a situation where the 
Chinese are in a position today to secret these kinds 
of missiles into Panama and use Panama as a launching 
point for missiles to attack the United States . And 
no one seems to get exercised over that and the media 
doesn't even mention that.
TEXT:  Speaking at a news conference sponsored by the 
John Birch Society, a far right group that has long 
opposed the new canal treaties, Admiral Moorer went on 
to say that the Chinese threat "is more difficult to 
handle" than the Cuban missile crisis.  The admiral 
also disputed the administration's contention that the 
United States retains the right after surrendering the 
canal to use force to ensure free passage in the event 
of a takeover by hostile forces.
TEXT:  But Admiral Moorer's theory of China setting up 
a hostile camp in Panama after the canal turn-over is 
disputed by the Atlanta (Georgia) Constitution:
VOICE:  As the day approaches that the United States 
will relinquish control of the Panama Canal .. 
Ultraconservatives in this country are conjuring up 
the direst of outcomes once Panamanians take over the 
canal's operations.  Very soon, they say, Communist 
China will be in a position to seize this strategic 
waterway.  Among the purveyors of this far-out 
speculation are retired Admiral Thomas Moorer, a 
right-wing doomsayer of longstanding; Representative 
Helen Chenoweth-Hage (Republican-Idaho), the militia 
movement's favorite congresswoman; and the John Birch 
Society, a Cold War relic notorious for its anti-Red 
paranoia. . Even if Hutchison Whampoa were a Peoples 
Liberation Army front, a conjecture that U-S 
intelligence has investigated and rejected, it is in 
no position to regulate traffic through the canal.  
What the company does is load and unload cargo 
containers, and according to others in the industry it 
does that quite well. . The country's [Editors: 
Panama's] business talent has studied how the 
Philippines has turned former U-S bases there into 
lively economic zones, and they intend to do likewise.  
In effect, Panama will replace a U-S government-
operated utility with a privatized authority that runs 
the canal like a business.  You'd think 
ultraconservatives would approve.
TEXT:  With those views from The Atlanta Constitution, 
we conclude this sampling of comment on the 
possibility of Chinese influence on the future 
operation of the Panama Canal.
NEB/ANG/JP
24-Nov-1999 17:21 PM EDT (24-Nov-1999 2221 UTC)
NNNN
Source: Voice of America
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