Wednesday, February 24, 1999

China satellite deal
wasn’t in U.S. interest

THE Clinton administration has been shaken out of its euphoric assumption that only good things can come from trade with China. Its decision to reject the sale of a $450 million satellite to a consortium with close ties to the Chinese government reflects a belated realization that national security can be endangered by such deals.

The decision came after the Defense and State departments objected to allowing China to launch the satellite. The Commerce Department favored the sale, but the State and Defense departments overruled Commerce.

Previously the administration policy supported commercial satellite sales to China to support American business interests and to help China advance technologically. Finally the administration has been forced to acknowledge that the sales could be a great help to the Chinese military, giving the Jiang Zemin regime the expertise to improve the accuracy of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. This reverses previous findings that the commercial satellite deals had no military applications.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that the Singapore-based consortium that is the official buyer of the Hughes Space and Communications satellite has links to the Chinese military establishment. Top officials of the consortium include high-ranking officers of the People's Liberation Army, who also served with the Chinese satellite corporation. It's remarkable that this information did not wreck the deal sooner.

China's interest in U.S. satellites with potential military value also figured in a controversy last year over contributions to President Clinton's re-election campaign. Although those charges were overshadowed by the Lewinsky scandal, they suggest that the White House may have compromised national security for campaign contributions.

The decision on the satellite deal appears to reflect a growing realization that China is an ascendant economic and military power with ambitions to challenge U.S. strategic dominance of the Western Pacific. China is already threatening a confrontation over U.S. protection of Taiwan.

Trade with China should be encouraged, but only trade in products that have no military applications, and even then only if China accepts the international rules of trade. Sanctions for violations of human rights should also be considered. Relations with China cannot be conducted solely on Beijing's terms.


Seizing drunks’ cars

ENFORCEMENT of a New York City law allowing police to seize the cars of drivers with blood-alcohol content above the legal limit has caused a stir because of its random application. The crackdown, initiated by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, may affect not only habitual drunken drivers but also first-time offenders who are acquitted in court.

The crackdown's first seizures late Sunday and Monday included not only the car of a 57-year-old Queens man with a long record of driving while intoxicated, but also that of a Staten Island librarian with no prior arrests whose blood-alcohol reading was 0.11, barely above New York's 0.10 legal threshold.

Giuliani says he favors seizures of cars belonging to those who are acquitted if "it's one of those acquittals in which the person was guilty, but there is just not quite enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt." Seizures would be triggered not by the case's outcome in court but by the person's blood-alcohol content. That is an outrageous statement, particularly for a former U.S. attorney.

Seizure of cars belonging to first-time suspected, or even convicted, drunken drivers is too harsh. Moreover, the effectiveness of seizing repeat offenders' cars is questionable. Most DUI offenders transfer their car ownership to relatives to avoid steep insurance rates. Such transfers also might skirt seizure laws. But ownership might not be a requisite for seizure if the car was frequently used by the offender with the consent of the owner.

New York's law is not unusual. More than 20 states have similar laws allowing police to seize cars of people suspected of drunken driving. However, most states do not allow auto seizures until after at least two drunken-driving arrests.

A California study has shown that such seizures can reduce recidivism rates. Hawaii has no such law. Perhaps it should -- but providing for seizures only upon a second conviction.


Waikiki Natatorium

ONE of Honolulu's most respected community leaders, Mary-Jane McMurdo, has provided a much-needed corrective for the wildly irresponsible claim about the Waikiki Natatorium made by the writer of a letter to the editor published on Feb. 17.

That letter charged that the hidden motive of the movement to restore the Natatorium is to fill in the swimming pool to create a stage and install 2,500 additional seats for the presentation of commercial shows. The writer claimed that it was obvious that the restored pool would soon have to be closed for health reasons. He said this was known by the project's supporters, but "it was necessary to make the project appear to be a historical restoration to honor war veterans."

This is nonsense. As McMurdo points out in a letter published yesterday, the Friends of the Natatorium has been pursuing full restoration of the World War I memorial for 13 years. The Friends and the city administration have every intention to restore the pool and operate it with adherence to high standards of water quality. There is no secret agenda to fill in the pool and stage commercial shows there. The charge says more about the writer's lack of respect for fact than the real issues.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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