Tempest in a Chinese Teapot
Jude Wanniski
May 27, 1998


Memo To: Sen. Fred Thompson [R-TN]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Technology Transfer

On the weekend "Evans&Novak" show, you made a string of bellicose statements about China that I hope you wish you had kept to yourself. “China has lied about this! China has lied about that! President Clinton should abort his scheduled trip to China!” What came across to me is the frustration you still feel in your failed attempt to nail President Clinton to the wall in your hearings on campaign finance excesses. As I recall, you had allowed yourself to be built into a Giantkiller, one who would use the hearings as a steppingstone to the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. It always struck me as dubious that anyone could parlay a prosecutorial role into the presidency, which always chooses peacemakers over prosecutors. I actually thought you had comported yourself well, even though there was no clintonskin for you to nail to your wall. That’s why I suggest you tone down your vituperation against China.

From the beginning, I’ve never believed you would be able to trace any money to the Chinese government. It makes no sense to me that the Chinese government would be so dumb as to try to influence U.S. policy decisions with bags of cash. Only our CIA gets caught spreading political payola around the world trying such dumb stuff. I’ve always assumed you’ve felt secure in knowing China has been involved as a result of CIA briefings, but those guys will not be able to prove a paper trail even if one existed, and you will left barking about lies and deception. I’m  afraid your GOP colleague on the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, helped lead you down that garden path. A former Philadelphia prosecutor, Arlen knows how to play to a jury. On "FoxNewsSunday," with Tony Snow, he practically accused the Democrats of encouraging a Chinese nuclear attack on the West Coast, by selling nuclear secrets in exchange for Johnny Chung’s $100,000 in payola. I always marvel at how he keeps a straight face.

Please note that it does not take a rocket scientist to see that it is highly unlikely there is any rocket science in the “technology transfer” that is at the center of this controversy. What we know is that China is the low-cost world producer of the rocketry required to put satellites in space and it is in the national interest of the United States to put satellites into space at the lowest cost. Alas, sometimes you get what you pay for and the low cost producer “loses” a satellite. The only real possibility of a technology transfer seems to involve a missing “chip” in a satellite recovered in 1996 after a Chinese rocket blew up at launch. As far as I can tell, only the Washington Times has concluded that the alleged missing chip contained navigational technology that would permit China to “nudge” its missiles around in space. The WashTimes and its ace reporter Bill Gertz is good at getting leaks from the Pentagon, no matter whose administration. It strains credibility to suggest the missing chip, if indeed it was swiped by the Chinese and not blown away in the rocket destruction, has to do with campaign payola.

Loral Corporation, which is run by President Clinton’s pal Bernie Schwartz, a big-time Democratic campaign contributor, made all the sense in the world when he appeared Sunday on the Sam&Cokie show. Loral is the company that arranged for the satellite with the missing chip to be launched. The only allegation involving Loral’s “violation of national security” was that it sent a report to the Chinese aerospace company, agreeing with its conclusion that a rocket joint had been improperly soldered. The “violation” was that the report should technically have been sent through the Pentagon for a rubber stamp. The Wall Street Journal on Friday put all this in perspective, with an excellent editorial “China, Missiles and Clinton,” which says all the things that should worry the American people about the topic, but with a sensible tone that leaves open the possibility official China has been telling the truth -- as far as anyone can determine for sure.

You really have to be careful in knowing your sources before you jump up and down announcing World War III with the lying Chinese over $100,000. There are several semi-scrupulous Republican intellectuals lurking about, eager to crank up a conflict with Beijing. If you give me a call, I will send you their names in a fortune cookie.