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COSCO and the ineptitude of Congress

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, did what many would have bet couldn’t be done. He got a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have blocked the China Overseas Shipping Company, or COSCO, from taking over the strategic Long Beach Naval Base.

And who rejected the ban on this owned-and-operated subsidiary of the People’s Liberation Army? Wrong. Not Bill Clinton. Not Dianne Feinstein. Not John Huang or Charlie Trie. This time, a conservative Republican senator has stepped in to safeguard the interests of Chinese military intelligence.

His name is James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and he serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And what he knows about China’s growing business interests in Southern California is dangerously little.

Inhofe’s office explains that his only objection to the House bill is its broad prohibition against foreign firms controlling strategic ex-military bases. He reportedly would favor legislation that specifically rejected COSCO as the controlling tenant of the proposed port facility.

But Inhofe apparently doesn’t realize that he is, in effect, giving the COSCO deal his blessing by rejecting the House language in the 1998 defense authorization bill he is crafting with Virginia Democrat Sen. Charles Robb.

For his part, Hunter, chairman of the House National Security subcommittee on procurement, is still battling COSCO. He has sent letters of protest to Inhofe and Robb. — and publicly invited Inhofe to write new legislation prohibiting the COSCO base. He reminded the two senators that COSCO has tried to smuggle automatic weapons destined for Los Angeles street gangs into the country and that it is also China’s vehicle for shipping nuclear-weapons components to Iran and Pakistan.

“Please advise me if you still insist on turning the former Long Beach Naval Base over to the Chinese government through its wholly owned and operated entity,” his steamy letter said.

Hunter said he hopes that a security briefing will help open the eyes of Inhofe and other senators to the imminent danger posed by COSCO, which, according to intelligence sources, plans to use the base as a key listening post in the nerve center of Southern California’s high-tech, defense and aerospace industry.

“This transfer of a naval base to a totally state-owned COSCO is going to make our national security monitoring of foreign-intelligence operations in Southern California much more complex,” said Hunter. “I just don’t understand why the Senate insists on inviting this situation. If this was an American company caught with 2,000 machine guns, the last thing we would be doing is turning over a Navy base to them. For some reason, because it’s a foreign operation, we tend to have lower standards.”

China also reportedly wants COSCO located near the multinational SeaLaunch project, which will use its Long Beach base to launch dozens of satellites into space from equatorial ocean locations. The Russian company RSC-Energia is a partner in SeaLaunch along with Boeing. RSC-Energia is as closely tied to Russian military intelligence as COSCO is to Chinese military intelligence.

If Inhofe is sincere in his desire to block COSCO, he may have made a serious political blunder by preventing Hunter’s bill from reaching the Senate floor.

“My boss is extremely concerned about Chinese militarization, proliferation and aggression,” said an Inhofe aide. “This was not done out of any naivete about Communist China.”

One wonders what kind of naivete did inspire the move. Inhofe’s Democratic colleague Robb has already expressed his opinion that COSCO does not represent a security threat.

“He’s determined, as has the Department of Defense, that the national security threat does not merit excluding COSCO from this location,” Robb’s spokesman John DiBiase told the Washington Times. “The DoD said there wasn’t a threat. That’s where we’re coming from. There’s a wide range of senators, including the two California senators, who are opposed to Mr. Hunter’s proposal.”

DiBiase did not mention that one of those two California senators, Dianne Feinstein, is married to a man with substantial business interests in China. Unless she welcomes accusations that are certain to arise from such influence-peddling, she ought to be forced by Senate ethics police to recuse herself from expressing any further opinions on the matter.

But, then again, with colleagues like Inhofe on the other side of the aisle, Feinstein has good cover to continue to promote Beijing’s interests here in the United States.