TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP
TITLE=IS PANAMA CANAL FALLING UNDER CHINESE CONTROL?
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
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
Many U-S newspapers have been skeptical of the
supposed threat, as we hear now from the Tulsa
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.
24-Nov-1999 17:21 PM EDT (24-Nov-1999 2221 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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