- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

The State Department yesterday confirmed that China has been delivering military equipment to Cuba, but signaled that the weapons were not 'lethal enough to trigger sanctions against Beijing.
"We are very much concerned with this PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) cooperation and movement of military equipment into Cuba," said James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, during a House subcommittee hearing.
The transfer was first reported yesterday by The Washington Times, which disclosed that the material included "military-grade" dual-use explosives and detonation cord. But the State Department signaled such weapons would not prompt retaliation against China.
"Theres a U.S. law that prohibits providing various types of assistance to foreign governments that have provided, quote, 'lethal military equipment to a country whose government is a state sponsor of terrorism," said State Department spokesman Phil Reeker, who repeatedly made that distinction to reporters.
He noted that Cuba is also listed as a sponsor of terrorism.
"What Im telling you, in reference to that law, is we have not made a determination that China has transferred lethal military equipment to Cuba," he added.
Republican members of Congress denounced such distinctions as a pretense to preserve Chinas trade with the U.S.
"Were splitting hairs about what kind of weapons in order not to trigger certain economic sanctions," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. "But we do this at our own peril.
"I realize that all of this is tied to the economy and trying to get cheap goods for the American consumer, but were going to pay a heavy price for it down the road," warned the Cuban-born Republican. "Its going to hurt our national security."
Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, called for immediate sanctions against the Chinese for spreading weaponry "to the back yard of the United States."
"The communist Chinese have now tipped their hands for all to see," said the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "They have expanded their spreading of weapons of all types, nuclear and otherwise, to Cuba, 90 miles off our shores."
Mr. Helms blamed the deal on "neglect by the Clinton administration," which took a much softer stance toward China and Cuba than Mr. Bush. He also warned against turning a blind eye to national security dangers for the sake of U.S.-Sino trade.
"This is a wake-up call to all who have hoped to make deals with Red China and make profits doing so," Mr. Helms said. "Its time to wake up and smell the coffee — by sanctioning China under applicable laws."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, asked Mr. Kelly during yesterdays hearing if the Bush administration would "grovel" in the face of the Chinese transfer of arms and explosives. The senior State Department official said no.
But the congressman said later in an interview that China was playing a dangerous game by shipping military equipment to Cuba. He drew parallels between the development and the attempt by the Soviet Union to put nuclear missiles in Cuba 40 years ago.
"This is but another outrage on the part of communist China," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "It is an act of belligerence toward the United States by the communist government in Beijing."
He added that the arms transfer — coming on the heels of China detaining 24 U.S. service members and their downed surveillance plane — "should be a clear message to people who have been irrationally optimistic about the potential for our relations with Beijing."
"We need to bring to the Communist Chinese government in Beijing an official notification that this is unacceptable and that there will be repercussions if they continue delivering arms to Cuba," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "And if they continue to do so, we will have to act and there will be some very serious alterations in our trade arrangement with China."
President Bush made no mention of the arms transfer as he arrived in Europe yesterday for a five-day visit. But he reiterated his resolve to keep Cuba economically isolated.
"We plan to keep the embargo on Cuba, and will do so until Fidel Castro frees prisoners, has free elections, embraces freedom," Mr. Bush said during a press conference in Madrid. "I believe strongly thats the right policy for the United States."
A White House spokesman traveling with the president later declined to comment on the specifics of the arms transfer.
China has been steadily intensifying its military relationship with Cuba since last year, but yesterdays report by The Times was the first public disclosure that China had moved at least three shipments of arms to Cuba.
"Ive been monitoring this situation for some time and have even raised the Cuba-China connection in classified briefings with U.S. intelligence agencies," said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen. "But it wouldnt have even dawned on us that it would be at the weapons stage."
* Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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