Who says patriotic Americans are just too complacent to protest their government’s betrayal of U.S. sovereignty and national security?

That was certainly not the case in Long Beach, Calif., last week as hundreds of local residents turned out to protest the proposed giveaway of the closed Long Beach Naval Base to the Chinese government.

The occasion was the Navy’s final hearing on the future of the base. City officials, business leaders and most local politicians strongly favor the plan to turn the strategic base over to the Chinese Overseas Shipping Co., or COSCO, a Beijing-owned shipping line that hands out cash to influential Americans such as former Secretary of State Alexander Haig to promote itself as just another business.

But this is no ordinary shipping company. The protesters point out the potential COSCO would have for importing millions of tons of uninspected goods — including illegal drugs, weapons and products manufactured by slave labor. Local activists are beginning to see a defeat of the COSCO project as the first volley in a bigger national campaign to expose China as a dangerous and hostile totalitarian power.

“A giveaway of the Long Beach naval facility to COSCO is such bad economics and bad planning that it can only represent corrupt government officials and disastrous long-term foreign policy,” says Melani Crandall, chairman of the Stand Up America Committee, a coalition of dozens of grass-roots activist groups. “We will keep the pressure on to get Washington to revoke the ‘Most Favored Nation’ status of this corrupt, murderous Communist superpower.”

But while local citizens are up in arms over the deal, the business establishment sees it as a great opportunity.

For Tom Bussa, chairman of the Long Beach Economic Development Commission, the issue is “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The commission, the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders want the Navy to bulldoze the historic base and turn the property over to the Port of Long Beach, which had previously made a commitment to develop the terminal for the Chinese government even before an environmental review had been completed. The port had also spent $32 million to buy cranes to equip the terminal for the Chinese.

But, fortunately, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien ruled that even local governments had to adhere to the state’s sometimes draconian environmental laws on development. The city is appealing the decision and has been joined in the case by 117 other California cities, Los Angeles County and the California State Association of Counties. These government bodies don’t think environmental laws should apply to them — only to ordinary people, their subjects.

Technically, the ruling forced Long Beach to break its lease agreement with China. But city officials still think they have a chance to salvage the deal.

It’s a strange coalition that has formed to do battle over COSCO — patriots, environmentalists and historical preservationists have tied up a plan that was once on the fast track. The Navy is expected to make a decision in May. But has a decision already been made for the military?

You see, it’s important to remember how this insane plan to hand over a military base to the Chinese was initiated in the first place. It was President Clinton who came up with the idea. It was just days after COSCO adviser Hongye Zheng attended one of

Clinton’s Saturday morning radio broadcasts, and following a transfer of $391,000 into the Democratic National Committee’s coffers mysteriously raised by Johnny Chung, that Washington proposed the deal to Long Beach officials. Coincidence? I’m sure. Just follow the money trail, as they used to say.

So here’s a plan to which the entire political and business establishment has given its blessing. Is there a chance it can still be derailed by ordinary citizens? Time will tell.

Just in case, Los Angeles officials are busy putting the finishing touches on their own port a few miles away. If the Long Beach deal does collapse, the L.A. port will be ready to lure the Chinese with incentives like a brand new terminal.

V.I. Lenin said capitalists would someday hang from rope they sold to the Communists. But even he couldn’t have possibly imagined how shortsighted, greedy Americans would one day try to sell their own domestic military bases — their own sovereignty, their own strategic real estate — to Communists. Even capitalists couldn’t be that stupid. Or could they?

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.