- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board now believe that manufacturing problems in China caused the crash of an MD-83 airliner last month, killing all 88 Americans on board. If their suspicions are borne out, Alaska Air Flight 261 could become a powerful symbol for all that has gone wrong with President Clinton's failed policy of appeasement toward China, as well as a tragic monument to the shortsightedness of major U.S. exporters such as Boeing, who have shipped jobs overseas relentlessly in pursuit of the phantom Chinese market.

Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corp. manufactured the defective horizontal stabilizer for all MD-80 and MD-90 series aircraft as part of a massive offset agreement negotiated with McDonnell Douglas more than a decade ago. Boeing has since purchased McDonnell Douglas.

Under the agreement, which opened the way for the sale of MD-80 aircraft to China, McDonnell Douglas agreed to help Chinese aerospace companies manufacture parts that would be incorporated into all similar aircraft sold by McDonnell Douglas worldwide. The agreement was roundly protested by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers because it meant closing U.S. production lines for those parts and exporting the jobs to China; but neither President Bush nor Mr. Clinton paid heed to the unions. Since then, dozens of U.S. aerospace plants have been closed, including an F-14 plant in Maryland, as their manufacturing equipment has been sold off to China, where more often than not it has been used to produce combat jets and missiles, as well as civilian airliners.

I first began investigating the sell-off of U.S. defense production equipment to China in 1994 for Time magazine. At that time, U.S. government sources provided me with documentation detailing how a Chinese military manufacturing company, CATIC, was seeking to buy advanced machine-tools from a McDonnell Douglas plant in Columbus, Ohio. Customs inspectors and Defense Department analysts raised concerns from the outset because the Columbus plant had been used to produce the B-1 bomber and the C-17, the largest military jet cargo plane in the world. The equipment and the manufacturing processes used in the plant were considered critical military technologies and were safeguarded by strict export controls until Mr. Clinton came around.

In a letter sent to McDonnell Douglas executives in late 1993, CATIC made clear that if the U.S. company wanted to sell more airliners to China, they would have to overcome the U.S. government objections one way or another. If not, CATIC intended to cancel a follow on contract to purchase more MD-80 and MD-90 series aircraft. CATIC's approach was out-and-out blackmail.

As I pursued my investigation in the summer of 1994, I discovered that the Columbus plant was not the only one the Chinese were attempting to buy. They had approached Allison in Indianapolis to purchase sensitive helicopter manufacturing equipment and jigs, and Heinz Aerospace in Philadelphia to purchase helicopter engine manufacturing gear. They were also attempting to buy an entire factory from Garrett Engines, a unit of Allied Signal, so they could manufacture small gas turbine engines that could be fitted into a new generation of advanced cruise missile.

My investigation was scheduled for publication in mid-July 1994, but was pulled abruptly on a Friday afternoon. Only later did I learn why: Time editors had been contacted by political appointees at the Department of Commerce, who protested my story and requested that Time withhold it from publication until the administration could better spin the facts. In their defense, Time editors called my investigation "advocacy" journalism.

With the exception of the Wall Street Journal, the mainstream media ignored the Columbus story for more than three years when the administration was finally forced to impanel a grand jury and begin an investigation. Last October more than five full years after I had uncovered most of the facts in the case the grand jury handed down a 16-count indictment against both CATIC and McDonnell Douglas. "What today's indictment demonstrates is that U.S. customs agents … found clear and convincing evidence that CATIC and McDonnell Douglas knowingly diverted sensitive technology for Chinese military use," said Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly. "This is an unprecedented case." The case was indeed unprecedented when it initially occurred. But as the Clinton administration grew bolder, it eliminated export controls increasingly through regulations that largely escaped congressional scrutiny.

The damage to our national security through these transfers of military technology to China over the past seven years defies common sense. As my own reporting and the bipartisan Cox Commission has documented, American technology released by the Clinton administration has helped China to:

c Improve the range and accuracy of their ballistic missiles.

c Miniaturize their nuclear weapons.

c Build secure military communications.

c Develop cyberwarfare systems, giving China the ability to paralyze our information-intensive infrastructure.

Until the crash of Alaska Air Flight 261, Mr. Clinton's supporters have been able to claim that nothing the president did put American lives in jeopardy. Helping China to build longer range, more accurate nuclear missiles mattered little, the administration claimed, because the Chinese could not build enough of them to launch an effective second strike against the United States. Besides, China had become our "strategic partner."

With Alaska Air Flight 261, the chickens are coming home to roost. NTSB inspectors have now found similar problems in 23 aircraft. How many more civilian airliners must go down before we put an end to policies of appeasement and to the illusion of vast untapped markets in China? The love fest with dictators must stop now, because it is not only compromising our security: It is costing the lives of Americans at home.

Kenneth Timmerman is a contributing editor at Reader's Digest magazine.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide