- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

Chinese President Jiang Zemin believes fellow Politburo member Li Peng is behind the planting of electronic listening devices aboard the president's new U.S. jetliner, according to a classified State Department intelligence report.
Mr. Jiang is said by U.S. intelligence officials to be convinced that Mr. Li ordered the aircraft bugging to listen in on the Chinese president's discussions of financial corruption related to Mr. Li's wife and children.
The assessment of China's discovery of 27 electronic eavesdropping devices inside a new Boeing 767 jetliner helps explain why Beijing has had a muted reaction to the incident, which Beijing initially blamed on U.S. intelligence, the officials said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Beijing last month, when the bugging was first disclosed, that he had no knowledge of the incident but that it would not have "any impact upon other issues."
"I said last time that if someone wants to bug China, it will be a stupid act by some individuals," the spokesman said.
Disclosure of the State Department report comes as President Bush prepares to embark tomorrow on a trip to China, Japan and South Korea.
White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday that Mr. Bush will meet with Mr. Jiang and give a speech at a Chinese university. The president expects to discuss the war on terrorism, homeland-security issues and economic-security matters with the Chinese leader.
China's suppression of human rights and religious freedom also will be discussed, along with Beijing's records of shipping missiles and weapons of mass destruction to unstable regions.
Mr. Li heads the National People's Congress, China's nominal legislature and is considered one of the three most powerful leaders in China, after Mr. Jiang and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
All three are members of the ruling Communist Party Politburo standing committee, the real power in China, and are expected to step down in the next year after a party congress in October.
The bugging incident as well as its disclosure appears to be part of domestic politics and pre-congress political maneuvering among Chinese leaders, the U.S. officials said.
The State Department report said Mr. Jiang is "90 percent certain" Mr. Li was behind the bugging, even though initial reports suggested that U.S. intelligence agencies had planted the devices, either by circumventing Chinese security guards or co-opting them.
Officials said Mr. Jiang's suspicions are a sign the electronic devices found inside the aircraft were traced to China, probably its military intelligence services.
Senior Bush administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have been silent on the issue, declining to comment on what they regard as an intelligence matter.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment yesterday when asked about the report by the department's intelligence bureau, known as INR.
The listening devices were found in September or October aboard a new Boeing 767 jet that had been outfitted under Chinese military supervision by a U.S. company in Texas.
The bugs reportedly were planted in a bathroom and in a bedroom aboard the jet, intended exclusively for the Chinese president's travel use.
The jet is sitting at an airfield north of Beijing, where it is part of the official investigation into the bugging.
The officials said Mr. Li was one of the Chinese leaders who backed the Chinese military assault on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and was a key backer of Mr. Jiang's rise to top Chinese leader after the massacre by Chinese troops.
Chinese press accounts in recent weeks have carried unusual articles about corruption among Chinese leaders and their relatives.
A Chinese magazine, Securities Market Weekly, ran an article implying that Mr. Li's wife and son had used their political connections to help a Chinese power company. The magazine later was forced to apologize for the article.
But a short time later, about 100 protesters gathered outside the Beijing National People's Congress, which Mr. Li heads. The protesters demanded an inquiry into an investment company said to be linked to Mr. Li's son.
James Lilley, a former ambassador to China, said it is plausible that domestic Chinese politics are behind the bugging. "Li Peng came out with a fairly strong statement on human rights inviting us to butt out," Mr. Lilley said in an interview.
Mr. Lilley said Chinese communist officials are known to have carried out electronic eavesdropping against political rivals in the past, notably during the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. "Factions have used this technique in the past," he said.
"With the run-up to the party congress, we're obviously seeing tensions building [among Chinese leaders]," Mr. Lilley said. "There's a struggle, and Jiang is under attack for being soft on America."
Mr. Li is the logical opponent because he has been known as a leading anti-American hard-liner, Mr. Lilley said.
Vice President Hu Jintao, considered the favorite candidate to succeed Mr. Jiang after the party congress in October, recently gave a positive speech about U.S.-Chinese relations.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide