Washington: The Yellow Peril

Report of the Select Committee on US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China

submitted by Mr. Cox of California, Chairman.
US Government Printing Office, three volumes, 909 pp., $81.00 (paper)

Christopher Cox
Christopher Cox; drawing by David Levine

In the early 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, “allegations arose” (as the Cox report so vaguely and aptly puts it) that Qian Xuesen, a Chinese-born American rocket scientist, was a spy for the People’s Republic of China. Qian had fled the Japanese invasion of China in 1935, emigrated to the United States, and earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. He was recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on jet propulsion, commissioned as a colonel in the US Air Force, and honored for the pioneering work he had done for his adopted country, including development of the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile.

Yet, when the “allegations arose,” Qian was stripped of his security clearances and removed from missile work. In his disgrace, China invited him to return home, and in 1955 the United States let him go. He took four fellow Chinese scientists with him and, together, they created the Chinese ballistic missile system, including the CSS-4 missile, which is currently targeted against the United States. China’s nuclear missiles, which carry about two dozen warheads compared to the eight thousand or so possessed by the United States, are universally believed to be intended as a retaliatory force, threatening the US with, say, the loss of Los Angeles if it ever went to war against China. One credible missile is all China needs to deter the kind of US military operation that was waged against Serbia. This is what Qian gave China.

Qian’s history, recounted in the House investigating committee’s report on Chinese espionage, offers the best explanation for the bizarre sequence of events that has led America once again into a witch hunt for Communist spies burrowed within our most secret defense establishments. Once again, as in the 1950s, the most reckless charges have been made against apparently innocent people, an opponent’s military capabilities have been grossly exaggerated, and unscrupulous politicians have blamed this overdrawn national security threat on the complaisance and possible corruption of their political foes, in this case the Clinton administration.

On the basis of scanty evidence, Republicans and even a few Democrats have demanded the resignations of Attorney General Janet Reno and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. A Chinese-American scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Wen Ho Lee, has been identified by unnamed government officials—and convicted in parts of the press—as a spy for China on the basis of evidence that is laughably thin. And, most irresponsibly, the Cox report suggests that every Chinese visitor to this country, every Chinese scholar, every Chinese student, every Chinese permanent resident, and even every Chinese-American citizen is a spy, potential spy, or “sleeper agent,” merely waiting for the signal to rise up and perform some unimaginable act of treachery.

Congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration, the intended main target of this Republican-led investigation, refuse…

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