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Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1999 22:57:31 -0500 (CDT)
From: pmanews@panama.c-com.net (Panama News
) Subject: the "Red Chinese" threat to the Panama Canal
Article: 73239
Message-ID: <bulk.6186.19990821121546@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

The Chinese threat: made in the USA

By Eric Jackson
21 August 1999

US Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is coming down here on a working visit. He says he wants to investigate the Panama Ports Company, the local subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa that runs the port facilities at Cristobal and Balboa. Why he bothers, I don't know-before he announced his trip or did the least bit of investigation, he declared that the "Red Chinese" control Panama Canal pilot assignments and can block the passage of ships through the waterway.

It might be dismissed as shooting from the hip by an obscure solon from the extreme fringes, but for the fact that US Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott chimed in with a letter to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, maintaining that "US naval ships will be at the mercy of Chinese-controlled pilots." Lott went on to claim that "the Chinese Communist Party will gain an intelligence information advantage by controlling this strategic chokepoint. It appears that we have given away the farm without a shot being fired."

And where did Senator Lott get his information? He said he read all about it in the weekly supplement Insight-which, like its parent The Washington Times, is owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Let's be blunt about this. Congressional Republicans are talking complete nonsense about Panama, and it's not because they're ignorant. They have polling and focus group data that show a lot of fear and loathing of China these days, they can make a pretty strong case that the Clinton administration took unseemly "soft money" campaign contributions from Chinese interests and they think that it all makes sticky mud for next year's election campaign. The accusations that are being made about Chinese domination of Panama have nothing whatsoever to do with reality here. They're just cynical myths for domestic consumption.

Sadly, however, distortions designed for uninformed people in a big country can wreak terrible damage upon a small country. Take, for example, the corollary to Lott's "we have given away the farm" complaint.

Not "giving away the farm" means not honoring the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties, something that the far right has been demanding for years. It means turning back the clock, re-militarizing the isthmus, reducing Panama to protectorate status and running this country's most precious industrial asset for the benefit of foreigners. In a word, it means colonialism.

I don't think that the treaties will be abrogated anytime soon. Bill Clinton won't do that and Rohrabacher, Lott and friends don't have enough votes to remove him.

The danger is that bilateral relations will be constrained by a widespread if erroneous US public impression that Panama is dominated by a country with whom we don't even have diplomatic relations. With the GOP already well financed for next year's elections, many a timid Democrat will choose not to refute the gibberish coming from the other side of the aisle. That may be all it takes to put the Moonies in effective control of the US Embassy here.

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