- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that a report that China's No. 2 leader was behind the bugging of President Jiang Zemin's new U.S. aircraft is a rumor.
"It is purely rumor. We have no further comment," a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse in Beijing.
The Chinese spokeswoman, who was not named, was responding to a report in Friday's editions of The Washington Times.
The article stated that the State Department's intelligence bureau had concluded in a classified report that Mr. Jiang was convinced fellow Politburo member Li Peng was behind the planting of some 27 electronic eavesdropping devices inside a new U.S. aircraft to be used by the Chinese president.
The bugging devices were discovered last fall during a Chinese test flight, triggering an investigation and the arrests of several Chinese air force officials.
The devices were found in a lavatory and sleeping quarters on the presidential aircraft.
Mr. Li, chairman of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, said on Sunday he had no knowledge of how the aircraft was wired with the covert listening devices.
"I do not know anything about that," Mr. Li told reporters in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, where he had completed a two-day visit.
U.S. officials did not say how the State Department had reached its conclusions about the bugging incident. But the fact that it was an internal Chinese operation helped explain why China's government did not react publicly with denunciations of the United States, the officials said.
The intelligence report stated that Mr. Jiang was "90 percent" convinced the bugging was done at the direction of Mr. Li, according to U.S. officials familiar with the report.
The report stated that Mr. Li wanted to listen in on any conversations Mr. Jiang might have about financial corruption in Mr. Li's family, including financial dealings by his wife and children.
Mr. Li has been a target of accusations of corruption in China, including press reports and even small protest demonstrations.
Mr. Li is viewed as a hard-line communist who helped orchestrate the 1989 Chinese military crackdown on unarmed protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Recently, Mr. Li gave a speech condemning critics of China's human rights record, an issue likely to be raised by President Bush during his visit to Beijing this week.
U.S. specialists on China have said that eavesdropping among Chinese leaders was carried out in the past, including during the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.
The bugging was initially thought to be the work of U.S. intelligence agencies. The aircraft, a Boeing 767, was outfitted by a company in Texas but was under constant guard by Chinese military personnel.
The plane was delivered to China in August and the listening devices were discovered weeks after its arrival, according to a report in the Financial Times of London last month, which first disclosed the bugging incident.
U.S. officials believe the bugging and its disclosure are part of an internal political struggle among top Chinese leaders. Mr. Jiang and Mr. Li are scheduled to step down after the Communist Party holds its major conference in October.
Lau Siu-kai, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Agence France-Presse that he thinks it is unlikely Mr. Li would have risked planting the bugs on the aircraft because "Li does not want to suffer any adverse effects on him or on his family."
Mr. Li depends upon Mr. Jiang's support as the Chinese political leadership continues its power struggle, Mr. Lau said.
"He is likely to resign because of his age, but he also wants to avoid any criticism about the June 4 [Tiananmen Square] massacre and for that he needs Jiang's support," he said.
Bush administration officials have declined to comment on the State Department report.



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