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Does Beijing threaten Central America?

With U.S. troops about to be pulled out of Panama, and de facto
control of that country’s vital canal going to a Hong Kong company with
strong ties to Communist China’s military, defense experts, officials
and politicians are debating the likely consequences of the American

Former President Jimmy Carter, ending nearly a century of U.S.
control of the American-built canal, stated at the conclusion of
Tuesday’s formal transfer ceremony in Panama, “It is yours.”

Pushing the issue into the 2000 presidential campaign for the first
time, independent candidate Patrick Buchanan said, “Tuesday’s transfer
of all U.S. bases in the former Canal Zone, as well as the Big Ditch
itself, now leaves this strategic asset in indifferent, and perhaps even
hostile hands.”

Regarding the Chinese control of the strategic waterway,
Buchanan said if he becomes president he “will make it the first order
of hemispheric business to effect the peaceful expulsion of any and all
agents of Beijing from Panama, and to reestablish a U.S. presence in
that country.”

However, noted defense analyst Norman Polmar does not share
Buchanan’s view of the Chinese threat in Panama. The author of “The
Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” Polmar has testified on defense
issues before Congress and currently writes a monthly column for the
U.S. Naval Institute’s “Proceedings” magazine.

“What is the threat to us? What would the Chinese do to the canal?
They could do it without the ports,” Polmar told WorldNetDaily. “But
more important, why would they close the canal?”

“It would devastate trade for many nations,” said Polmar, “some of
whom the Chinese do not want to alienate; also, loss of canal trade
would directly hurt the Chinese.”

Polmar contends the Chinese navy will not go to war against America.
According to Polmar, although the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy
has the weapons to threaten the U.S. homeland, it lacks the manpower to
operate a modern nuclear fleet.

“(It is) unlikely that the Chinese will develop a significant nuclear
submarine force,” Polmar stated, in response to news reports from the
Chinese press that the Communist navy will field a new series of nuclear
attack submarines.

“When I was there a few years ago, the head of Naval Materiel made it
very clear that they could not afford the people to operate and maintain
such a force,” explained Polmar. “Nuclear trained people are
immediately grabbed for R&D activities, civilian power reactor projects,

“But more significant, why would the Chinese attack the U.S. Navy or
homeland? I feel strongly that their leadership does not wish a
conflict with us,” stated Polmar.

“Trade is their major interest in the United States,” Polmar
asserted. “Without our markets their economy would suffer greatly.”

Nevertheless, the transfer of the Panama Canal to Chinese operators
is viewed as a serious threat by some on Capitol Hill. As exemplified
by a recent report
issued by House investigator Al Santoli and Senate investigator Jim
Doran, titled “The Panama Canal in Transition,” there is a growing
concern in Congress over a new threat south of the border.

“In Panama, where government corruption is rampant, there is a
dangerous convergence of well-financed Chinese and Russian mobs with
Cuban government operatives and Latin American drug lords, leftist and
narco-terrorist militants,” states the report. Doran is the Asia-Pacific
specialist for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while Santoli is
national security advisor to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

“This dark partnership is a threat to democracy in Panama and in
neighboring countries, and is a direct long term threat to Mexico and
the United States,” the report says.

The congressional report adds, ominously, “The growing anti-U.S./NATO
‘strategic partnership’ of China and Russia poses an increasing threat.
There is a well-documented history of both Russian and Chinese organized
crime working as tools of their governments.”

One specific threat presented by the recent Chinese operations in
Central America, says the report, is a war of refugees. China, taking
note of the large influx of illegal aliens into
America from the south, has added its own people to the massive tide of
immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship.

“(Panamanian) government officials and private Panamanians expressed
their concern about the massive illegal immigration flow from mainland
China, and the corruption of Panamanian officials who permit it,” noted
the Congressional report.

“The alien smuggling — largely of peasants who have little money of
their own — is conducted by Chinese triad gangs on commercial ships.
The price for Panamanian residence documents is $10,000 to $20,000 per
alien. Panamanian officials say that many
Chinese aliens’ final destination is the United States.”

“Some officials in President-elect Moscoso’s Arnulfo Party have been
either involved or privy to the alien smuggling system,” concludes the
report. “The scale of alien arrivals in Panama strongly suggests that
Chinese communist officials are involved in the process, as well as the
shipping companies.”

Buchanan shares the congressional report’s concerns. The threat of a
narco-terrorist war in Central American, says Buchanan, has increased
because the U.S. is no longer present as a stabilizing force.

“The U.S. bases from which we monitored drug flights out of Colombia
are gone. Critical U.S. Army training facilities are gone,” stated

“Only in some strange New World Order of President Clinton’s
imagining can a U.S. presence in Bosnia call for a four-year $12 billion
U.S. commitment, while the Panama Canal is let go, when a tiny
investment of a few millions of dollars could have secured it,”
concluded Buchanan.