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The U.S. ambassador in far-off Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, confronted China’s ambassador about a covert attempt by Beijing to bribe the government there to shut down the strategic U.S. military transit base at Manas in exchange for $3 billion in cash.

The Feb. 13, 2009, cable signed by Ambassador Tatiana C. Gfoeller revealed that Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Zhang Yannian “did not deny categorically” the covert cash offer to close the base, which is a major transit and refueling point for U.S. troops and supplies heading into northern Afghanistan.

“After opening pleasantries, the ambassador mentioned that Kyrgyz officials had told her that China had offered a $3 billion financial package to close Manas Air Base and asked for the ambassador’s reaction to such an allegation,” the cable stated.

“Visibly flustered, Zhang temporarily lost the ability to speak Russian and began spluttering in Chinese to the silent aide diligently taking notes right behind him. Once he had recovered the power of Russian speech, he inveighed against such a calumny, claiming that such an idea was impossible, China was a staunch opponent of terrorism, and China’s attitude toward Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close Manas was one of ‘respect and understanding.’ “

The cable highlights what observers say has been China’s behind-the-scenes, anti-U.S. strategy of seeking to undermine U.S. global counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Zhang insisted that China’s interest in Kyrgyzstan, which shares a border with China’s restive Xinjiang province, is purely commercial. He then said China rejected calls by “some Kyrgyz” for China to set up a military base there to counterbalance Russian and U.S. influence.

“We want no military or political advantage. Therefore, we wouldn’t pay $3 billion for Manas,” Mr. Zhang was quoted as saying.

Chinese intelligence personnel, however, are another story, according to U.S. officials who have said Beijing’s intelligence presence is very large in the country.

Mr. Zhang advised the U.S. ambassador on how to keep the base. “Just give them $150 million in cash [per year, and] you will have the base,” he said.

The Chinese official also said several times during the meeting that a “revolution in China” is possible if the economy failed to improve and millions remain unemployed.

“In our experience, talk of revolution at home is taboo for Chinese,” the cable said.

However, observers have noted that Chinese diplomats used similar language in meetings with U.S. officials as scare tactics, warning of a coming Chinese collapse as a way to stave off political pressure for democratic change.

Braced for attack

Amid high tensions, U.S. and allied militaries are braced for another North Korean attack - more artillery shelling, missile test launches or possibly another underground nuclear blast.

The next incident is expected in coming days after U.S.-South Korean joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea that ended on Wednesday, said intelligence sources familiar with the region.

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