- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Next week, the White House staff has to make a decision: Is there any political risk in having your boss’ picture taken with the Communist Chinese military officer most associated with the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation to terrorist countries over the past 20 years?

PLA Gen. Cao Gangchuan, Communist China’s defense minister, will be visiting the United States beginning tomorrow. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has to see him; he’s the official host. But the real question everyone wants answered is whether Gen. Cao is going to make the Oval Office. Beijing and its Washington collaborators are making a big push for Gen. Cao to see President Bush. There is precedent here, they argue, because President Clinton had invited the last Chinese defense minister to the White House even though that one had been in operational control of the PLA forces who killed so many Chinese young people at Tiananmen Square.

Gen. Cao is the PLA’s weapons guy. He buys them, he makes them and he sells them. On the weapons selling side, he began as a staffer in the late 1970s, worked his way up to deputy division chief, division chief and then chief of the PLA’s notorious “Office of Military Trade” by the early 1990s. From then on, with patronage from the Deng family, his career took off and under one title or another he has been the PLA’s leading weapons official ever since.

Let’s look at the record of Gen. Cao’s arms-smuggling exploits:

• In the 1980s, PLA companies were busy selling Silkworm missiles to Iran.

• In 1990, a Chinese arms company was caught busting the U.N. arms embargo on Iraq by smuggling rocket fuel.

• In January 1990. the Chinese and Iran signed a 10-year “military technology transfer agreement.”

• In 1990, Sen. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, pressed the State Department to explain PLA assistance to the Libyan chemical weapons complex.

• In 1991, British Intelligence discovered the Chinese were secretly building a nuclear weapons plant in Algeria.

• In 1992, CIA Director Robert Gates told Congress Syria was seeking chemical and biological warheads from China.

• In 1993, CIA Director James Woolsey named Chinese military companies as the leading poison gas suppliers to Iran.

• In 1994, German intelligence stopped another sanctions-busting Chinese rocket fuel export bound for Iraq.

• In 1994, the Wall Street Journal reported that America’s Defense Intelligence Agency found Communist China was secretly assisting North Korea’s long-range missile programs.

• In 1995, Defense News quoted from a CIA report detailing the PLA’s extensive efforts to give Iran an indigenous missile capability.

• In 1995, South Korean intelligence reported China’s Commission on Science and Technology for National Defense (COSTIND) was training hundreds of North Korean missile engineers.

• In 1996, China signed a $4.6 billion arms deal with Iran.

• In 1997, German intelligence reported Chinese military companies were building a major poison gas plant in Iran.

• In 1997, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pressed Beijing twice on Chinese arms sales to Libya that were in contravention to the U.N. sanctions.

• In 1997, Mrs. Albright revealed that Chinese military companies had transferred germ warfare-making equipment to Iran.

• In 1999, ABC News reported Syria was receiving Chinese medium-range, mobile-launch missile technology.

These are just representative samples. A true account, just from unclassified materials, would be book-length. In 1996, the CIA told the Congress that Communist China was the world’s leading proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and so it remains. Since President George Bush took office in January 2001, the U.S. Government has sanctioned Gen. Cao’s arms companies about 40 times for serious WMD and missile smuggling to terrorist countries.

Just last month, the State Department dropped the Helms Amendment (named for former Sen. Jesse Helms) on Communist China’s leading arms company for repeatedly smuggling missile parts to Iran. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry is screaming that will cost them billions of dollars in U.S. sales.

During all this time, Gen. Cao has been at “Ground Zero” on Chinese proliferation. He has done more than any other Chinese official, military or civilian, to make the world a more dangerous place. If he had a nickname, it would truly be “General Proliferation.”

Foreign defense ministers come and go in Washington almost every week. None of the defense ministers from Asia have rated an individual meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office. This includes Japan, South Korea, the Philippines or Thailand, where we have formal military alliances of longstanding. It would certainly send the wrong message for Gen. Cao to be welcomed to the White House when our closest friends and supporters have not.

It is said that if you must sup with the devil, do so with a long spoon.

William C. Triplett II is a defense writer in Washington.

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