Overlooked during America's preoccupation with the Dubai ports deal is a much more imminent threat - China's methodical campaign to gain control of global ports that are strategically positioned to support military or economic actions against the United States - a move that has gone virtually unnoticed.
The powerful Chinese-owned Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. is now the world's biggest cargo terminal operator, according to London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants. It also is the world's largest port owner.
Hutchison Port Holdings has assumed control of scores of potential economic choke points, including 169 berths at 41 ports worldwide. These facilities control about 15 percent of global maritime container traffic.
Some of Hutchison's ports lie near key sea lines of communication, such as the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the eastern coast of the United States. Of the eight international regions with choke points labeled by the Department of Defense as "U.S. lifelines and transit regions," Hutchison has ports in six.
"Amidst the furor over a U.A.E. corporate takeover of major U.S. and Canadian seaports, scant notice has been given to the longstanding and continuing threat from the PRC/Triad [People's Republic of China and Chinese mobsters] 'business' presence at seaports around the world, including the U.S. and Canada," stated a top-level Canadian port security analyst.
"COSCO [China Ocean Shipping Co.] moved into Vancouver weeks after the liberal, Sino suck-up government of Canada inexplicably got rid of the ports police, which of course had nothing to do with the extensive personal business interests held by the then and future prime ministers. Now they're in Halifax and the pattern is identical; they exclude everyone from their operation, and commercial port operators with dollar signs in their eyes and God knows what in their pockets blithely proclaim, 'It's good for business.' No doubt, but whose business -- and what is the business?" stated the analyst.
"Even Hillary Clinton is now decrying the installation of (billionaire) Li Ka-Shing and his Hutchison Whampoa at both ends of the Panama Canal. Too bad ethics didn't trump self-interest when the Clintons approved the deal. Maybe Hillary is just trolling for a renewal fee from her PRC benefactors. After all, there's another campaign on the horizon," noted the analyst.
Asia's richest man, Li owns Hutchison Whampoa. He is well known outside of financial circles, having attracted the attention of the U.S. military in a top-secret document drawn up in 1999 during his successful bid to buy the Panama Canal ports.
According to the October 1999 "intelligence assessment" prepared by the U.S. military's Southern Command, the Hong Kong billionaire is a "threat" to U.S. national security.
"Hutchison Whampoa's owner, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, has extensive business ties in Beijing and has compelling financial reasons to maintain a good relationship with China's leadership," states the assessment.
"Hutchison's containerized shipping facilities in the Panama Canal, as well as the Bahamas, could provide a conduit for illegal shipments of technology or prohibited items from the West to the PRC, or facilitate the movement of arms and other prohibited items into the Americas," states the 1999 report.
According to a 1999 investigative report by the American Foreign Policy Council, "Hutchison Whampoa, through its Hutchison International Terminals subsidiary or Panama Ports Co., has substantial links to the Chinese communist government and the People's Liberation Army."
The Hutchison Panama Ports Co. is 10 percent owned by China Resources Enterprise (CRE), which is the commercial arm of China's Ministry of Trade and Economic Cooperation.
In its investigation into China's attempts to influence the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee identified CRE as a conduit for "espionage - economic, political and military - for China."
The committee's then-chairman, Sen. Fred Thompson, said that CRE has "geopolitical purposes. Kind of like a smiling tiger; it might look friendly, but it's very dangerous."
Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi has described the Hong Kong firm as "an arm of the People's Liberation Army."
Li was a member of the board of the China International Trust and Investment Corp. (CITIC), a business partner of COSCO. CITIC is the bank of the Chinese army (People's Liberation Army, or PLA), providing financing for Chinese army weapons sales and Western technology purchases.
COSCO is known for its global commercial transport. COSCO also acts as the merchant marine for the Chinese military. COSCO ships frequently participate in Chinese naval exercises and are armed with missile launchers.
COSCO ships have carried weapons to Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Iraq. COSCO ships also have carried nuclear weapon components to Pakistan. COSCO ships have been used to ferry tanks to the Marxist regime in Burma, ship North Korean rocket fuel to Pakistan and smuggle heroin into Canada.
The Chinese navy sometimes refers to COSCO ships as "zhanjian," or warships, and boasts that COSCO workers are and will be "ready for battle into the next century."
The Hong Kong Ming Pao newspaper reports the Chinese navy is stepping up its refitting of COSCO merchant ships for use in war. COSCO container ships can be used for both sea and ground operations, ferrying troops and armored vehicles to launch attacks or land on beaches.
Chinese military officers told Ming Pao that some merchant ships also could be fitted with large-caliber artillery and multibarrel rocket launchers, medium- and small-caliber anti-aircraft guns and guided missiles. The ships also can be used for laying anti-ship mines and for anti-submarine warfare and to install electronic-deception devices.
Li also is well known for helping Chinese allies. He currently is developing North Korea's main harbor and is investing in the outlaw nation.
According to a 1994 dossier written by an "intelligence agency," Li has "significant economic and political ties to China," including investments in "a power station, a highway construction project and a large contribution to Shantou University."
He also has had legal troubles and has a known criminal record. According to Clinton White House documents, he was "found guilty of insider trading after a widely publicized trial in 1984; he was not punished by the courts."
Li has invested more than $1 billion in China and owns most of the dock space in Hong Kong. In an exclusive deal with China's communist government, he has the right of first refusal over all PRC ports south of the Yangtze River, which involves a close working relationship with the Chinese military and businesses controlled by the PLA.
He has served as a middleman for PLA business dealings with the West. For example, he financed several satellite deals between the U.S.-based Hughes Corp. and China Hong Kong Satellite (CHINASAT), a company owned by the PLA.
In 1997, U.S. taxpayers would have financed Li and the Chinese navy when they nearly obtained four American-built huge roll-on/roll-off container ships, which can be used for transporting military cargo.
U.S. Commerce Department documents also show that law enforcement agencies were very concerned about Li's connections to Triad criminal gangs. A 1995 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau noted that Li had signed an agreement to build an $88 million container ship terminal in the Bahamas.
Curiously, for a harmless deal done by a Hong Kong tycoon, the copy list for the cable included several law enforcement agencies, such as Customs and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"... U.S. agencies [have] security concerns about possible smuggling attempts through the terminal," states the cable from the U.S. Embassy.
The late Adm. Thomas Moorer opposed Li and Hutchison Whampoa in his Panama Canal takeover bid. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also served as the commander of the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets.
"Of course, the Chinese military sees the benefit of having a base, a future base, so close to the United States," Moorer said.
"What China is trying to do is get a kind of maritime position worldwide, and they need a home base - so to speak - in every ocean.
"Not only are the Chinese in the Bahamas, they're in Panama and the Spratly Islands right off the Philippines. They tried to get Long Beach [Calif.]," Moorer said.
"There's no question about the fact in my mind that the Chinese military forces are affiliated with Mr. Li, who in turn runs Hutchison Whampoa," added Moorer.
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