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WHAT 'CHINA SCANDAL'? SO FAR THERE'S NOTHING BEHIND IT BUT SPECULATION

It has been months since the Chinese government was first accused of trying to funnel illegal contributions to candidates in U.S. election campaigns. A special panel in Congress has come up with nothing convincing to back up sensational charges by its chairman, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who earlier boasted he could show a Chinese government role.

Many foreign countries and groups have lobbying forces in the United States, legally or illegally, to seek influence, contribute funds to U.S. political parties or invite politicians to visit their countries. However, the media and some politicians have become especially interested in China.

A radio talk show spent weeks discussing the matter. Vice President Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich talked about it when they were visiting China.

But from the start of the scandal to now, no one has brought any persuasive evidence supporting the accusation of illegal political contributions from China.

The charges concentrate mainly on John Huang, the Democratic fund-raiser. The suggestion is that since John Huang was a former employee of the Lippo Group, an Indonesian-based conglomerate, and still kept a close relationship with the company, there is a possibility that he leaked top secrets to the Lippo Group and lobbied the president and Democrats for the company.

Since the Lippo Group had interest in China, it is argued, there is a possibility that China could have used Lippo, via Huang, to funnel money to the United States, attempting to influence U.S. politics in favor of China and obtain U.S. top secrets.

The allegation reminds me of the way things were in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. If a Chinese citizen had a relative living in Taiwan, the citizen most probably would be accused as a "Nationalist Party spy." It didn't matter if this relative was a close relative or a very far relative; it didn't matter if this relative was working as vice president of Taiwan or as a housekeeper.

In those days, too, if a citizen had been in the United States for a while and returned to China, he would be accused as an "American spy."

Today, some U.S. media and politicians have just about the same mentality as they try to find links to supposed illegal Chinese contributions.

There's no doubt that the Lippo Group has interest in China because of its business deals with China. But I believe that, compared with Boeing or Motorola, its interest in China is not worth mentioning. It cannot even compare with the Chinese interest of McDonald's, which set a record of one-day sales with $200,000 at one restaurant located in the center of Beijing and has opened more than 100 restaurants throughout China.

Are there some federal officials who have worked for Boeing, Motorola, McDonald's or thousands of other U.S. companies that invested in or did business with China? Have Boeing, Motorola, McDonald's or the other thousands of companies ever contributed to presidential or congressional campaigns?

If so, why were these companies not accused for their interests in China and not suspected of being tools to influence American politics? Why were these officials not suspected of sending top secrets to China?

The only answer I see to these questions is "because Huang is an ethnic Chinese and the Lippo Group is a foreign company."

The Huang/Lippo/China linkage is purely speculative. By this kind of logic, I might accuse Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of passing U.S. top secrets to Israel because she is ethnically Jewish. To prove an allegation, one needs to find considerably more persuasive logic.

If you ask me if the Chinese government would like to seek influence over American politics, I'd say the answer probably is "yes." But I would also say yes if asked whether the United States would like to seek influence upon Chinese politics involving Hong Kong.

However, if you ask me if the Chinese government is really involved in illegal contributions, my answer is "most probably not." The reason is clear and simple.

America has the two largest, most powerful and most technologically advanced investigative agencies, the FBI and CIA, as well as the largest number of independent news agencies and reporters in the world. Sen. Thompson is still using the same information published in newspapers half a year ago.

If none of these investigators can provide any solid evidence after so much time, I have to consider it unlikely that there is involvement of illegal contributions on the part of the Chinese government.

Unless far better reason for suspicion turns up than we have seen so far, the frenzy about this issue should be called to a halt.

Y. TOM NIU, a Chinese citizen with permanent U.S. resident status, holds titles of senior and associate economist and econometrician with the New York State government. He lives in Amherst.

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