Although Congress has killed a deal to lease the abandoned Long Beach Naval Station to a Chinese shipping company, local officials are still fighting to make other accommodations to keep the China Ocean Shipping Co. from leaving the harbor.
Port of Long Beach officials were officially stripped of their ability to lease the former Navy land to COSCO late last week, when congressional conferees submitted to Congress the 1998-1999 defense authorization bill. The legislation’s final language effectively prohibits the Chinese company from leasing any part of the Long Beach Naval Station after it is converted into a cargo terminal. Officials said there is virtually no chance of amending the bill.
The legislation does not leave a provision for the president to waive the ban. It was President Clinton himself, who, after meeting with Chinese officials, first proposed basing the Chinese company, a front for the People’s Liberation Army and Beijing’s intelligence arm, at the former naval yard.
John W. Hancock, president of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, said the port will begin talks as soon as possible with three or four major shipping lines that are interested in acquiring more terminal space. The companies, which Hancock declined to identify, already hold leases in the Port of Long Beach. Port officials said they would try to find a new site for COSCO if other shipping lines in the harbor move onto naval station grounds. COSCO, which is one of the largest shipping lines in the world, has operated in the port since 1981.
“Congress has thrown two years of effort out the window due to a ridiculous political climate,” Hancock said. “Our plans are to go forward posthaste with development of the base. There is time to get new tenants.”
Leading the effort to block COSCO from the facility were Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-OK, and Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy “Duke” Cunningham, both San Diego-area Republicans. They and their conservative colleagues asserted that Chinese Communists could use the former base for military purposes and intelligence-gathering, allegations first raised in WorldNetDaily more than 18 months ago. Port officials and COSCO supporters disputed that contention citing two recent Department of Defense reports show that the shipping line does not present a national security threat to the United States.
“COSCO has a long and very troubling record of shipping both weapons and components of mass destruction around the world,” said Hunter. “For all practical purposes, COSCO is the merchant marine of the Chinese military. As a result, they carry the cargo of the Chinese military upon command and without question. We do not need to increase their access to American soil.”
The pro-COSCO forces lost ground in the debate because of controversies surrounding the export of U.S. satellites to China and alleged Chinese political contributions to President Clinton and the Democratic Party — ties first made, again, in WorldNetDaily.
“Our concern is that at some point in the future, if relations were to turn sour because of our mutually opposed interests, that COSCO, being an arm of the government and the military, would be in a position to do damage to us through espionage, smuggling and otherwise carrying out the agenda of the Chinese military,” said Harald Stavenas, press secretary to Hunter.
Last Friday, local politicians and harbor officials criticized Congress for jeopardizing trade with China and punishing the port for no reason. Already, the Chinese have indicated that they may reject proposals to build terminals for two U.S.-based shipping lines.
“We are dismayed that members of Congress could push through legislation this destructive and ignore the facts of the situation,” said Yvonne Avila, the communications
director for the Port of Long Beach.
The Port of Long Beach fears that its longtime tenant could simply move across the harbor to a new berth in the Port of Los Angeles. Officials there have presented COSCO with a proposal to lease space at Pier 400, which is being built. They last met three weeks ago.
New talks were planned for next month, but those have been canceled, said Barbara Yamamoto, public information director for the Port of Los Angeles. COSCO foes in Congress have threatened to expand the ban to the Port of Los Angeles, which receives federal funds for dredging operations.
“There is nothing definite at this point,” Yamamoto said. “The political concerns have to be considered seriously. Who knows? Congress might say COSCO can’t call on facilities in our port.”
Despite their defeat, Long Beach officials said they will push ahead with plans to convert the 400-acre base into a new cargo terminal and ship repair facility. Hazardous waste is already being removed from the facility and preparations are under way to demolish
structures on the site. The Navy, which now leases the base to the port, is scheduled to transfer title to the property by 2000.
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