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[ISN] Chinese intelligence role in region is eyed
BY PABLO BACHELET
April 07, 2005
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials said Wednesday there is no evidence that
China is seeking to boost its military presence in Latin America, but
for the first time warned about Chinese intentions to establish an
intelligence and cyberwarfare beachhead in the region.
Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Latin America, and
Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, the top Defense Department official for the
Western Hemisphere, testified before a House panel as several
legislators argued that China is trying to fill the void left by the
lack of U.S. involvement in the region.
Noriega and Pardo-Maurer said China's interests in Latin America were
mostly on the economic side, but warned that Beijing could also have
an intelligence agenda as it increased trade with Latin America.
''There is no evidence of Chinese interest in establishing a
continuous military presence in the region,'' Pardo-Maurer said.
Gen. Bantz Craddock, head of the Pentagon's Miami-based Southern
Command, told Congress last month that Chinese defense officials made
20 visits to Latin America and the Caribbean last year, while defense
delegations from nine Latin American nations visited China.
Pardo-Maurer added that Chinese military activity, including the sale
of weapons, did not ``pose a direct conventional threat to the United
States or its friends and allies.''
''However, we need to be alert to rapidly advancing Chinese
capabilities, particularly in the fields of intelligence,
communications and cyberwarfare, and their possible application in the
region,'' he told the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House
International Relations Committee.
The Bush administration wants other nations in the hemisphere to
''take a close look at how such activities could possibly be used
against them or the United States,'' he added.
This is the first time that a senior Pentagon official warned so
directly about Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities in the region. Some
U.S. officials have previously and privately expressed concern that
Chinese personnel may be working at an electronic listening post in
Bejucal, Cuba, believed to be also capable of carrying out
Pardo-Maurer would not elaborate during the House panel's public
hearing, and offered to brief members in a classified session.
But a U.S. official who requested anonymity said the Bush
administration was concerned that Latin American nations could
wittingly or unwittingly end up hosting Chinese communications
facilities that seek to harm the United States.
''We know that China . . . has made a top priority of this
knowledge-based warfare,'' the official said, adding that as Latin
American countries tighten links with China, some 'may be tempted to
think that, `well, we can get away with letting China do these things
Several members of Congress from both parties expressed concern that
China is reaching out to Latin America's left-leaning leaders and in
the process diminishing U.S. influence in the area.
''If we are not careful, Beijing's influence could easily unravel the
region's hard-won, U.S.-backed reforms to fight against corruption,
human rights abuses, increase government transparency and combat
intellectual property violations,'' said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who
chairs the Western Hemisphere subcommittee.
But Noriega also noted that despite recent inroads, China's weight in
Latin America was still dwarfed by U.S. influence in the region, in
both military and economic terms.
Besides the need for raw materials, China wants to lessen its
isolation in the world, ''pursue defense and intelligence
opportunities'' and isolate Taiwan, which is recognized by 12 Latin
American nations, Noriega said.
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