Thursday, September 16, 1999

Chinese transferred
missiles to Pakistan

Bullet The issue: U.S. intelligence reported that Chinese authorities transferred medium-range missiles to Pakistan, which could result in sanctions against China.
Bullet Our view: The disclosure is too serious to ignore despite the administration's desire to improve relations with China.

No sooner had President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin met in New Zealand and declared an end to months of frozen relations than another issue emerged that could put their relationship back in the deep freeze.

U.S. intelligence has disclosed that Chinese authorities transferred medium-range missiles to Pakistan. This could result in mandatory sanctions against China. A State Department spokesman called the possible transfer of M-11 missiles, which have a range of about 250 miles, a matter of "grave national security importance" to the United States.

How much damage the intelligence disclosure will cause is unclear; much will depend on whether the administration deems the alleged violation by China sanctionable within the law.

If so, a ban would be imposed on transfers of technology relating to missile and military aircraft development, among other areas.

The law is aimed at deterring transfers of missile technology. It was crafted based on standards adopted by the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international anti-proliferation grouping. Pakistan also would be subject to sanctions, but is already under penalty for violations under a different law.

The Clinton administration can't be pleased with the disclosure after it was reduced to groveling before the Chinese to repair relations damaged by the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

For months Beijing refused to accept Washington's repeated apologies and explanations that the bombing was an accident. Evidently the Communists were using the incident as a pretext for belaboring the United States in retaliation for criticism on human rights and other issues.

During his meeting with Jiang, Clinton continued his kowtowing, openly criticizing Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's assertion that Taiwan should be considered a separate state in its dealings with Beijing. Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, said the president told Jiang that Lee "had made things more difficult for both China and the United States."

Apparently Clinton didn't complain about the ways China has made things difficult for the United States, such as threatening to invade Taiwan, committing wholesale violations of human rights and now exporting missiles to other countries. But the missile transfer appears to be too serious to ignore despite Clinton's seemingly desperate desire to win Chinese approval.


Campaign finance

Bullet The issue: The House has passed a campaign spending bill for the second year in a row but its prospects in the Senate are dim.
Bullet Our view: Some parts of the bill could be challenged on First Amendment grounds.

FOR the second year in a row, the House has passed a campaign spending bill, but the big question is whether the measure will be filibustered to death in the Senate. That was the fate of similar legislation in 1998.

The bill passed on a 252-177 vote, with dozens of Republicans joining Democrats in support. Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie voted in favor, Rep. Patsy Mink against.

The measure would ban the use of "soft money" in federal campaigns. The term refers to donations to political parties, which are unlimited and largely unregulated by the federal government. These contributions have exploited a loophole in current law, which restricts only the amount of "hard money" direct contributions to political candidates.

Several "poison pill" amendments were rejected. Among them were proposals to triple the 25-year-old limits on contributions, allowing donors to give up to $3,000 to individual candidates and $75,000 overall for any campaign cycle.

The attempt to close the "soft money" loophole is laudable. The present situation permits candidates to obtain unlimited campaign funds through the political parties that they are barred from accepting directly from contributors. It makes a mockery of the limits on direct contributions.

However, the bill also would impose limits on certain types of political advertising, and this portion of the measure could raise First Amendment issues.

Broadcast messages within 60 days of an election that made use of the name or likeness of a candidate would have to be paid for with "hard money" contributions. This restriction would also apply to any print or broadcast message that contained an "unmistakable or unambiguous" appeal for the election or defeat of a federal candidate.

Those provisions are designed to crack down on attack ads that are now paid for with "soft money" -- not directly by the candidates.

But can such restrictions be reconciled with the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech? It seems unlikely. That is why the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause are often on opposite sides of such issues.

If enacted into law without revision, the measure is likely to be mired in the courts for years by challenges on constitutional grounds. The right to express one's opinions on political issues is at the heart of the First Amendment.

It's easy to decry the influence of money in the political system. It's not easy to find constitutional ways to restrict that influence.

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