Any one who has been involved, as I have, in logistic planning to
support the entire “forward-deployed” military capacity of the United
States, where the time of transit from sources of supply to the deployed
forces is so critical, knows the danger faced when choke points are
controlled by unfriendly forces.

In the case of the Isthmus of Panama, any entity that controls the
anchorages has the capacity to control and disrupt the flow of shipping.
Panama’s enactment of its Law #5 in 1997 has enabled the Hutchison
Whampoa interests, closely allied with the military interests of
Communist China, to do just that. This law was passed by the Balladares
clique in Panama with the tacit support and encouragement of the present
administration, which has sought to prevent the public from knowing the
full extent to which that law, and its implementation to date, pose a
threat to our national security by giving Communist China the capability
to prevent our support of our forward deployment at will. Has the
president stated to the public that our entire military capability is
now hostage to the very oppressive government which financed his
campaigns from their outset? Or has he blocked the attempts to bring out
that truth?

In June, responding to an invitation from Sen. Helms, I testified
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the clear and present
danger created by Panamanian Law #5, which was passed under extremely
suspicious circumstances indicating a motive far beyond the commercial
on the part of the Hutchison Whampoa interests of Mr. Li Ka Sheng, a
gentleman very close to the communist rulers of China. There are signs
that this Law #5 does not reflect the will of a majority of Panamanians.
In fact, although the constitution of Panama requires all laws which
involve foreign nations to be submitted to a popular plebiscite, that
was not done with Law #5, apparently out of fear that it would not pass
such a test. The American public needs to know of the pressing strategic
danger posed by the capacity of our most likely strategic foe to control
the Canal in the event of a military confrontation thanks to this law.

China can prohibit America’s ability to act effectively, whether
acting on its own behalf in taking Taiwan, or on behalf of any other
hostile power with which it might seek to ally to advance its strategic
ambitions, e.g., Iran moving in the Persian Gulf or North Korea
advancing across the 38th Parallel. To correct such action would require
military force by the U.S. with a high cost in American lives. This
threat is not remote in time nor geographic distance; it exists today
and is not a function of further development of technology by the
Communist Chinese. It is “low tech” and all the more effective for being

The administration saw fit to have its ambassador to Panama, former
Rep. William Hughes, D-NJ, criticize my testimony and seek to undermine
it. Why did an American administration take such steps to prevent the
correction of such an obvious breach of our national security? Given the
“two ocean” strategy which we have relied upon since the Panama Canal
was built and our present reliance upon “forward deployment” within that
strategy, this amounts to resisting examination of a strategic
vulnerability which makes our entire present defense planning inoperable
at the will of China. It is as if, during the Revolution, Benedict
Arnold had quietly been allowed to give the British access to West Point
so as to enable their army to divide the country in half at their whim
and an experienced commander raising the issue of the foolishness of
such a breach was opposed for attempting to point out the folly.

Ambassador Hughes opened his remarks by criticizing my testimony
about the danger posed by the Chinese Communist control of ports at the
ends of the Canal. He did so by attempting to distinguish the ports from
the Canal, as if a ship could use the Canal without using the ports and
their anchorages. He thus sought to avoid the point of my comments and
to assuage fears about the administration’s tactical assistance in
turning those ports, and their anchorages, over to commercial interests
that are closely allied with and, in part, even openly owned by, the
Communist Chinese military. This is the Hutchison Whampoa complex of
companies, controlled by Mr. Li Ka Sheng. According to Emily Lau, a
leading Hong Kong democratic activist, Mr. Li operates as a virtual arm
of the Chinese military. These connections have also been found by
Senator Thompson’s committee and may be discerned by overt intelligence
using maritime and Asian business sources. Contrary to the assertions of
Ambassador Hughes, control of the anchorages is, for strategic purposes,
control of the Canal.

This capability to interfere with U.S. National Security that Law #5
has created is in conflict with the terms our Senate put into the Canal
Treaty and makes the ambassador’s distinction meaningless. In the event
of a military confrontation in the Pacific, (e.g. Taiwan Straits or
Korea) the large number of logistic ships required to support our
deployed forces must have available to them unfettered transit of the
canal from a matter of hours to a maximum of 10 days to sustain combat
effectiveness. The forward deployed forces in the Eastern Mediterranean
(NATO) or the Persian Gulf require the same assurances for logistic
resupply from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Canal. Control by
a hostile power of the approaches and anchorages would interdict timely
transit and would require taking the Canal by force. It is not “managing
traffic’ under normal circumstances as the Ambassador indicated, which
concerns me, it is the ability of a potential enemy to disrupt traffic
so as to block military supply, which in times of conflict is 80 to 90
percent dependent upon sea lift capability for any sustained effort.

At a subsequent point in his criticism Ambassador Hughes tried to
argue that the capability of interests allied with the Communist Chinese
military to control the Canal was not of concern because if such
interference occurs, we have a right to arbitrate. My concerns about
such a flagrant threat to our national security by commercial interests
allied so closely with the Communist Chinese military are not alleviated
because Panama Law #5 has a provision that, if there is a conflict
between it and the Canal Treaty, the Treaty prevails and we could
enforce it at an arbitration under the rules of the International
Chamber of Commerce. This is not practical if a military confrontation
necessitating immediate use of the canal to support our forward deployed
forces should occur. The transit of logistical supply ships must occur
too quickly to allow for such enforcement. The mere capacity for hostile
action that Law #5 creates threatens our security and breaches the
Treaty. The violation is not cured by some legal right that, as a
practical matter, is unenforceable in the time frame of conflict, and
lacks sufficient reliability for military planing. So again we see that
the only enforcement of this supposed right would be armed seizure.

The entire argument of Ambassador Hughes also relies upon a false
premise and that is that in a nation such as Communist China, military
and strategic interests are separate from commercial and business
interests. This is not the case. At the heart of this denial is an
unwillingness to face the reality of a totalitarian government such as
that of Communist China, which operates on a central command principle,
not as a Republic. There is no separation between commercial and
strategic considerations on the part of the controlling party elite, any
more than there was in the former Soviet Empire. The Party elites in
turn, through operatives in all units, control the armed forces. The
armed forces (and in this they differ from the Soviets) control the
biggest business conglomerate in Communist China. Including fronts and
affiliates, the military is bigger than all other businesses combined.
Some of its operations, and there are thousands, (such as COSCO and
China Resources) have become known to committees of our Senate and
through reports in the maritime and business press. But we seem in the
grip of a paralysis as far as fully analyzing the strategic implications
of this massive military industrial complex and its reach into the
Panama Canal. This present situation, as I write this today, is the
situation which we have always feared, but which we have never
previously faced since the Panama Canal was opened, i.e., having a
potential hostile power as a constant presence in the canal with an
ability to close it off at any time under any circumstances. I was
surprised that our Ambassador sought to divert attention from a focus on
this problem. Unlike missile technology transfer, this danger is not in
the future and will not go away unless we take action to eliminate it.
But what I see is complicity, inaction and cover up.

Retired Admiral Tom Moorer is a former chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, chief of Naval Operations, commander-in-chief of our
Pacific Fleet, supreme allied commander, Atlantic, and
commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet. He is the honorary chairman of
U.S. Defense — American Victory in Washington, D.C. He can be reached by
email at the address for U.S. Defense — American Victory. He can be
reached by e-mail.

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