Clinton to continue engagement of China despite espionage report
May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 4:03 p.m. EDT (2003 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 25) - President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that while he will "work very hard with the Congress to protect our national security," he plans on continuing the policy of engagement with China because it is "in our national interest."
Citing the newly released Cox report, Clinton directly addressed the issue of Chinese espionage, saying "like many other countries, China seeks to acquire our sensitive information and technology. We have a solemn obligation to protect such national security information, and we have to do more to do it."
The president said he agreed with an "overwhelming majority" of the
recommendations from the select House committee, led by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California), for tightening security. Clinton added that in February 1998 he put in place "the most sweeping reorganization ever of counterintelligence in our nuclear weapons labs."
He also noted that since 1996, U.S. funding for counterintelligence
measures has increased from $2.6 million to nearly $40 million.
But the president also defended his administration's policy of so-called "constructive engagement" with China to deal with other issues.
"I strongly believe that our continuing engagement with China has produced benefits for our national security," Clinton said noting China's decision to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, end nuclear cooperation with Iran and Pakistan and assist in eliminating North Korea's nuclear program and reduce its missile threat.
Earlier Tuesday the chief spokesman for the president called the recommendations of the Cox report "constructive" in a written statement
"We found most of the recommendations constructive and we are in the process of implementing them," said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.
The statement continued: "While we do not agree with all of the report's analysis, the administration and the select committee share a common objective, ensuring that U.S. national secrets are protected and that our civilian technology is not diverted for military purposes."
White House officials tell CNN that they found some of the rhetoric in the report a bit overblown and questioned some of the committee interpretations. But, they say, they are in full agreement with the fact that there were serious security problems at the national laboratories that date back more than 20 years.
About 70 percent of the original congressional report was declassified and made public Tuesday morning.
The report concludes China has been stealing America's most sensitive nuclear secrets "for at least the past several decades" and despite high-level knowledge of the thefts, security at U.S. nuclear labs still "does not meet even minimal standards."
Lockhart said that the president received a classified version of the report on January 4 and delivered a response to the committee recommendations on February 1.
The Clinton Administration first learned of the extent of the alleged espionage in 1995 when a Chinese citizen gave the CIA a classified document from Beijing that demonstrated China had obtained information on the W-88 and half a dozen other U.S. nuclear warheads.
Although the report claims the president was made aware of the allegations in early 1998 and the administration has taken steps to boost security at nuclear labs, security will "not be satisfactory until at least sometime in the year 2000."