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China: Analyst Says Concern Over Chinese Strategic Leap Overblown

Prague, 27 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A veteran analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly says that reports from the United States of a great Chinese strategic leap as a result of espionage appear to be overstated.

Charles Basset, a Janes editor based in London, was commenting on a U.S. congressional report made public yesterday detailing a pattern of systematic and successful Chinese espionage to learn American nuclear secrets.

Basset told RFE/RL in a telephone interview today that what he called "a very serious offensive by Chinese intelligence" against the United States had occurred. But, he said, the details of the 900-page Cox report probably came as a surprise to few analysts.

"I think one has to bear in mind that since the end of the Cold War, most of the major players on the geopolitical stage have been attempting to do two things -- first, to weaken the United States and to slow the United States down and, secondly, to acquire as much technology as possible to narrow the gap between American technology and their own."

The Janes analyst added that talk of enabling Beijing to leap years ahead with its nuclear weapons sounded overblown. He said that the U.S. congressional investigation seemed a thorough and detailed investigation. But, he said, to assume that great damage had been done to U.S. security would be to assume that U.S. defense technology was standing still.

He said he believes the information reported stolen by the Chinese won't in any way change, in his phrase, "the equation of power in the world."

"I would imagine that senior policy leaders in the United States realize that they have on trust for a generation -- certainly no longer -- but for a generation the security of the world. It's very hard to imagine any change to that trusteeship being launched within the next 30 years."

The U.S. House of Representatives' Select Committee on National Security prepared the espionage report. The entire committee membership of five opposition Republicans and four members of President Bill Clinton's Democratic Party endorsed the report.

Committee chairman Christopher Cox, a Republican, said the Chinese stole secrets that they can use in weapons to be deployed as early as the year 2002. He said the espionage probably continues.

Basset said, however, that even more important than missiles and nuclear warheads in the U.S. defense technological armory is sophisticated electronic weaponry in which the United States also is far ahead. He said there haven't been any reports of those secrets having been compromised.