- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

The House voted overwhelmingly last night to tell the State Department to block China's state-run news agency from occupying an apartment building it bought that overlooks the Pentagon.

The measure, an amendment to State's fiscal 2001 appropriations, passed 367-34. Only Democrats voted against the amendment.

The amendment prevents the department from spending any funds to approve the office move by the Xinhua News Agency.

Rep. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, said the amendment he sponsored "sends a very strong and telling message to the State Department that they must block" the transaction.

While the measure would not take effect until the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1 by which time the State Department likely would have either approved or disapproved the sale the House wanted to be on record in opposition.

Defense analysts say Xinhua often acts as an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese government and the building could provide the opportunity to covertly monitor Pentagon comings and goings.

The Washington Times reported last week that the Xinhua News Agency had bought the 32-unit apartment building at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Road. Upper apartments have a direct view of the Pentagon "E-ring," the corridor where senior Defense Department officials, including Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, have their offices.

Mr. Vitter called the Xinhua location "an ideally suited spy tower, ideal to capture our military secrets."

Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, said that he has been in contact with the State Department since The Washington Times reported Xinhua's purchase last week.

"It's my expectation they will not approve the sale," he said.

Xinhua made the $4.6 million purchase June 15 and plans to use the seven-story building as its living and work headquarters in Washington. But the State Department has the power to force China to sell the building.

The service bought the apartment building from a U.S. real estate investor. The same complex had been owned by the communist East German government in the 1970s and 1980s.

The State Department treats the news agency as an extension of the Chinese Embassy and, under the 1985 Foreign Missions Act, Xinhua was required to apply to the department to buy land in the United States. But department officials said last week that, contrary to Chinese statements, it has received no request from China for Xinhua to buy the apartment building.

Xinhua, in a dispatch from Beijing over the weekend, again asserted that it requested State's approval May 22. The State Department yesterday reiterated that it received no such petition.

"We did not receive any such notification. I don't know if there is some problem with the mail," spokesman Philip Reeker said in an interview. "I expect them to show up with a copy of the letter. They haven't yet."

Under the law, State has 60 days to study a request. Since China is a communist country, the law also subjects Xinhua's purchase to a security review by the Defense Department and the FBI, which conducts domestic counterintelligence. The department said last week it is starting a security review of the location of the Pentagon Ridge Apartments across Interstate 395 from the Pentagon.

Zhang Yuanyuan, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said last week, "We don't need the permission."

"Xinhua is a company. As long as they go through the legally required procedures, the law does not require them to go through a different procedure. We have been following the laws and regulations of the U.S. in Virginia all along. If something is wrong, the lawyers should know that."

A department official said yesterday they have contacted several Chinese government agencies and the news agency itself, but haven't made any decision how to pursue the matter.

The news agency's bureau chief did not return phone calls yesterday but last week insisted to The Times that Xinhua isn't an intelligence arm of the Chinese government.

Established in 1931, Xinhua serves as an agency of the Chinese government. On politically sensitive matters, Xinhua dispatches are disseminated to state-owned papers in China, which must use the Xinhua version and are not allowed to do their own reporting. In some places, such as Hong Kong, Xinhua serves as a de facto representative office of the Chinese government. The agency has 34 domestic bureaus and 104 overseas bureaus.

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