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August 10, 2001

Report: China Had Covert Plan for 1996 Elections

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Intelligence showed that China funded a covert operation to influence the 1996 U.S. elections, focusing on congressional candidates believed to be sympathetic to Beijing's concerns, a Senate Intelligence Committee report said on Friday.

In the report of its activities during the 1999-2000 Congress, the committee said it had looked at whether allegations that China had conducted a covert program to influence the elections in 1996 through political donations and other means, were substantiated by intelligence.

``The answer to that question, the committee concluded, was: yes,'' the report said. Historically the Chinese government focused entirely on influencing the U.S. president and other executive branch officials. However, after then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was granted a visa to the United States in 1995, Chinese officials decided ``it was necessary to reassess their relationship with Congress,'' the report said.

China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, devised an official plan and made funds available to implement it with the goal of influencing the U.S. political process favorably toward Beijing, the committee said.

``The existence of this plan is substantiated by the body of evidence reviewed by the committee, including intelligence reports,'' the report said.

The main focus of the Chinese plan was apparently to get candidates elected to the U.S. Congress who would be sympathetic to China, rather than try to influence a sitting member of Congress to act on a particular piece of legislation, according to a U.S. source knowledgeable about the report.

The Senate Intelligence Committee ``discovered no direct evidence or information of an actual attempt to influence a particular member of Congress,'' the report said.

``There is intelligence information indicating (Chinese) officials provided funds to U.S. political campaigns.''

While there was information about specific contributions to U.S. political campaigns, which is illegal, there was no information clearly connecting the contributions to the covert Chinese plan, the source said.

``The intelligence information is inconclusive as to whether the contributions were part of the overall China plan,'' the committee report said.


``There is no intelligence information indicating that contributions had any influence on U.S. policy or the U.S. political process or that any recipients knew the contributions were from a foreign source,'' the report said.

Other congressional committees have previously looked extensively at illegal Asian campaign contributions for the 1996 elections, but not from the intelligence angle.

In May 1999, China's Communist Party newspaper said U.S. charges that Beijing donated funds to American election campaigns was a tale tall enough for the ``Arabian Nights.''

Democratic fund raiser Johnny Chung, a key figure in a 1996 campaign finance scandal, admitted helping to funnel $300,000 from a high-ranking Chinese military officer to former President Bill Clinton's reelection campaign.

Intelligence information showed that the intermediary between Chung and the Chinese official was Liu Chao-ying, the daughter of General Liu Hua-qing, formerly the highest ranking military officer in China, the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Chung was sentenced in December 1998 to probation after striking a deal with prosecutors and pleading guilty to charges of bank fraud, tax evasion and making illegal contributions to the campaign.

``China was running a covert action against us (in the elections),'' said Steven Aftergood, a director at the Federation of American Scientists which posted the committee report on its web site http://www.fas.org. ``That's certainly a startling finding.''

Copyright 2001 Reuters

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