- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2001

"I dont think many people perceive Castro as a threat to the United States." That was the assessment on June 8 of defense attorney Al Krieger, who once represented mob boss John Gotti, after a Miami jury convicted five Cuban agents of spying for Fidel Castro.

Thankfully, the jurors disagreed with Mr. Krieger and handed down sweeping guilty verdicts. Unfortunately, official Washington thinks Mr. Krieger is right. They see the aging tin-horn who rules Cuba as a harmless old coot. Those who believe that had better think again. Fidel has found a new benefactor.

Last Tuesday, four days after the verdict in the Cuban spy case, with President Bush travelling in Europe, the East Asia/Pacific Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee held a quiet hearing on the wisdom of renewing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for the People´s Republic of China. James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs, was doing his best to support the administration´s position that renewing PNTR is a wise thing to do, when my colleague from the Reagan White House, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, came out of his chair.

Brandishing an article by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times charging Beijing with shipping arms and explosives to Cuba, Mr. Rohrabacher asked what the State Department thought of these transfers. "We are very much concerned with this PLA cooperation and movement of military equipment in Cuba," Mr. Kelly politely replied. But later in the day the State Department released a statement that China would not be subject to sanctions for shipping arms to a nation listed as a state sponsor of terrorism because there "has not been a determination that China has transferred lethal military equipment to Cuba."

"What do they need?" asked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, who also serves on the International Relations Committee, when I called her that afternoon. "This isn´t something new," she added. "The People´s Republic of China and the Castro regime have been getting closer for years. The communist Chinese already have two electronic eavesdropping stations in Cuba. Their espionage site at Bejucal allows them to monitor U.S. personal, commercial and political communications. PRC intelligence sites in Cuba allow them to listen to almost everything on the U.S. East Coast."

Then Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen added a haunting thought to the equation. "There are substantiated reports listing Cuba as a country with a biological weapons program," she told me. "What if the PRC´s weapons will enable the Castro regime to launch offensive biological weapons at the U.S.?"

Unfortunately, both Mr. Rohrabacher and Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen appear destined to be ignored by a Washington power structure intent on renewing PNTR for the communist Chinese. Republicans, still smarting from the Senate´s power shift are loathe to criticize the White House. Democrats, many of whom support Ted Kennedy´s call for "normalization" of relations with Cuba, don´t want to rock the boat. And no one on either side of the political spectrum wants to find fault with Colin Powell´s State Department.

Rep. Porter Goss, Florida Republican, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence told me: "We shouldn´t be surprised that the PRC is making mischief with rogue nations. There is a pattern of behavior here." Then he added an ominous footnote: "Recall what happened when the government of India discovered that the PRC was helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons. They went and demonstrated their own."

Mr. Goss wouldn´t speculate on what military hardware the communist Chinese delivered to Havana, so I called a senior intelligence officer and asked, "Why do you think the PRC would be making shipments of military explosives and 'det-cord´ to Cuba?" His reply: "The bigger question is, 'What else has Beijing shipped, and why?´ "

I asked Rep. Rohrabacher that question. "Beijing is looking for leverage just like the Soviets did back in the ´60´s. First it´s small arms then it´s anti-aircraft weapons and they´ll keep pushing until we have to give up something in return. And of course, what they will want us to give up is our commitment to protect Taiwan," he said.

Mr. Rohrabacher may be right. We now know, decades later, that part of the secret deal President John F. Kennedy struck with Nikita Khrushchev was to remove short-range tactical nuclear weapons from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles from Cuba. Would Beijing be willing to "leverage" Cuba for a free hand with Taiwan?

The pro-PRC lobby in Washington argues that the stakes today are too high for Beijing to try this kind of brinkmanship. Yet Red China´s actions for the past five years indicate they are willing to risk a rupture with the U.S.: espionage, illegal political contributions, military assistance to Iraq and Libya, their own military build-up, overt threats that "Los Angeles is within range" of their ICBMs, the EP-3 incident, and now Cuba.

Most people in Washington believe trade with the U.S. is more important to the rulers in Beijing than anything else. But some, like Mr. Rohrabacher and Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen know that´s self-deception. And they want the rest of their colleagues to wake up before it´s too late.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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