A senior House Republican yesterday asked Navy Secretary John H. Dalton to report whether the Chinese Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco) represents a `global tactical or strategic threat' to the Navy.
The effort by Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon, chairman of the House Rules Committee, to force the Navy to make an assessment is the latest development in a campaign to block Cosco from taking over the abandoned Long Beach Naval Station in California.
`In order to understand the magnitude of the growing threat of the PRC [People's Republic of China], I would like you to state the U.S. Navy's position on [Cosco],' Mr. Solomon, New York Republican, wrote in a one-page letter to Mr. Dalton.
`Considering their potential world-wide information gathering capabilities, a history as the delivery system of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist countries and the size of this fleet under direct control of the communist regime--does Cosco pose a potential global tactical or strategic threat against the U.S. Navy?'
The Solomon letter represents a more specific question for the Navy. Before, congressional inquiries have centered on whether Cosco at Long Beach would be a regional threat. The congressman wants to know if Cosco, and its 600-ship fleet, poses a danger to the Navy itself.
Mr. Solomon was one of the first in Congress to speak out against the Chinese-Long Beach connection.
`This is almost a caricature of Lenin's prediction that the West will hand the rope to its Communist executioners,' he said March 10. `The Clinton administration seems to be going out of its way to help the most serious threat to American security, the so-called People's Republic of China.'
Cosco plans to lease 144 acres to operate a large container terminal, giving Beijing an important beach-head in making Cosco one of the world's largest carriers.
Lawmakers in recent weeks have emerged from closed-door intelligence briefings with conflicting interpretations.
Conservatives who oppose the deal say the intelligence shows Cosco is a tool of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, trafficking in weapons of mass destruction to known terrorist states such as Iran.
But local Long Beach legislators say the briefings show Cosco is not a threat.
President Clinton personally backed the city of Long Beach's overture to Cosco, after a commission had targeted the station for closure as part of armed forces downsizing.
The negotiations occurred at a time China is suspected of funneling millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions into the United States in a government-sponsored operation to influence the 1996 election.
Some Republicans wonder if there is a connection between Cosco's expansion plans and the Democratic fund-raising scandal.
Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy `Duke' Cunningham, both California Republicans, want to stop the Cosco-Long Beach marriage through legislation attached to the 1998 defense authorization bill. The House National Security Committee is schedule to write the bill next month.
However, the Cosco transaction may die before the Navy officially transfers the property to the city's Harbor Commission.
A coalition of conservationists and history buffs have filed suit to stop the project, which calls for leveling every naval station building.
A judge in Los Angeles has ordered the city to terminate the Cosco lease and re-evaluate the plan's environmental impact.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Clinton appointee, Dorothy Robyn, in November urged the preservationists to abandon their effort to save any buildings.
Miss Robyn, who serves on the National Economic Council, told the paper she made the calls as a favor to Long Beach's mayor. She said she had no contacts with Cosco officials.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has asked the Federal Maritime Commission to report whether Cosco is guilty of predatory pricing.