- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

U.S. officials “need to be alert” to China’s growing influence in Latin America, especially the role its intelligence services are playing, a senior Pentagon policy-maker told a House panel yesterday.

The testimony from Roger Pardo-Mauer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, comes as China is attempting to exercise more influence in the United States’ back yard. Beijing has sought closer ties with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, controls shipping ports in Central America and may be gathering intelligence in the region as it has done in the United States for years, officials have said.

China also is moving closer to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a popularly elected leftist who regularly criticizes the United States and has been seeking partners in an anti-U.S. coalition. China is searching for more sources of energy as its economy expands to the word’s sixth largest and its appetite for oil grows. Venezuela is the United States’ No. 3 foreign supplier of crude.

“We need to be alert to rapidly advancing Chinese capabilities, particularly in the fields of intelligence, communications and cyber-warfare, and their possible application in the region,” Mr. Pardo-Mauer told the House International Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “We would encourage other nations in the hemisphere to take a close look at how such activities could possibly be used against them or the United States.”

China is bankrolling a military rearmament that includes more nuclear weapons and a larger long-range navy. Intelligence officials say it is all part of Beijing’s plan to become a global military and economic power.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and subcommittee chairman, said “weak legal systems, lax enforcement of labor standards and an immature institutionalization of the respect for human rights are fertile ground for Beijing’s agenda and China is definitely exploiting this opening.”

Latin America has reveled in two decades of transition from dictatorships to democracies, but recent trends trouble the Bush administration. Officials fear Mr. Chavez is poised to use the military to solidify his power in Venezuela and to export revolution to neighboring states. In Central America, the communist Sandinista Party seems on the verge of retaking control of Nicaragua.

Mr. Pardo-Mauer said China does not seem interested in developing a military presence in Latin America, although it is increasing contacts. There is no evidence, he said, “that Chinese military activities in the Western Hemisphere, including arms sales, pose a direct conventional threat to the United States or its friends and allies.”

Testifying alongside Mr. Pardo-Mauer was Roger F. Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Mr. Noriega’s statement referred to China’s “increased presence” in the hemisphere to find more raw materials, to “showcase its emergence as a major power” and to “pursue defense and intelligence opportunities.”

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