In Brief... World News Review: Chinese Interests in Bahamas

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In Brief... World News Review

Chinese Interests in Bahamas

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In 1962 the United States and Russia came dangerously close to nuclear war over the issue of nuclear weapons based in Cuba, just a few miles off the coast of Florida. Today there are concerns expressed over the presence of a Chinese company, Hutchison Whampoa Limited, in Panama, where it has contracted to manage the entrances to the former U.S. possession. The same Chinese company is currently completing construction of the largest container port in the world in Freeport, Bahamas-just 60 miles from Florida.

While this is a far cry from placing nuclear weapons close to United States soil, it has raised concerns that a company with Communist Chinese connections is operating in two strategic geographic points very close to American interests.

Several U.S. military experts say that these activities in both Panama and the Bahamas by Hutchison Whampoa Limited, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate, pose a significant risk to U.S. national security.

Officials for Hutchison Whampoa have heatedly denied any links with the Red Chinese government, but several established connections suggest that the Chinese government has a keen interest in the company's activities.

One port facility that has captured the interest of the Chinese government is Hutchison Whampoa's sprawling port facility in the tourist destination of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

According to the company's Web site, the port is located at one of the most strategic spots in the world because "Freeport is the closest offshore port to the east coast of the United States, at the cross-roads of routes between Europe and the Americas and through the Panama Canal."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican-Mississippi) and former U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger have expressed concerns about Hutchison's influence over the Panama Canal.

Lott has described the Hong Kong firm as "an arm of the People's Liberation Army."

Hutchison Whampoa's chairman, Li Ka-Shing, is also a board member of CITIC-the China International Trust and Investment Corporation. U.S. intelligence sources have described the firm as a front for China's governmental State Council.

Congressman Dana Rohrbacher (Republican-California) has stated that CITIC has been used as a front company by China's military to acquire technology for weapons development. A recently declassified report by the United States Southern Command's Joint Intelligence Center, prepared in October 1999, said that "Hutchison Whampoa's owner, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, has extensive business ties in Beijing and has compelling financial reasons to maintain a good relationship with China's leadership."

The military intelligence report also warns that "Hutchison containerized shipping facilities in the Panama Canal, as well as the Bahamas, could provide a conduit for illegal shipments of technology or prohibited items from the West to the PRC, or facilitate the movement of arms and other prohibited items into the Americas."

Retired Admiral Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former commander in chief of the Pacific and Atlantic Fleet said this of the Chinese efforts: "Of course the Chinese military sees the benefit of having a base, a future base, so close to the United States. What China is trying to do is get a kind of maritime position worldwide, and they need a home base, so to speak, in every ocean." (