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House Readies New China Probe

A new House panel is taking over the chamber's inquiry into President Clinton's satellite export dealings with China and whether his actions compromised national security or were influenced by campaign contributions. reports on President Clinton's trip to China
Although the panel is getting a late start, its chairman, Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., is pledging to work long hours and through the many congressional recesses during the waning months of this election-year calendar.

"There is no more important question than the one with which we begin," Cox said of the new committee, created Thursday by a 409-10 vote by the House. He said his inquiry will first try to answer whether U.S. technology transfers directly or indirectly enhanced the reliability of the Chinese missile program.

"And if so," he asked, "how did this happen?"

The new committee expected to have five Republican and four Democratic members was to get to work early next week.

The committee, formally named the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People's Republic of China, was given broad subpoena powers and special authorization to look into tax records dating back to 1988 of individuals and businesses it considers pertinent to its investigation.

Coming a week before the president's trip to China, Thursday's action was the latest in a series of lopsided House votes that reflect wide bipartisan uneasiness over the spate of disclosures involving his administration's technology transfers to China.

Late last month, the House voted to ban all future satellite or space-technology exports to China. The Senate may consider the prohibition next week when it takes up a defense spending bill.

Some Democrats have urged congressional restraint out of respect to President Clinton's China visit. "When presidents are abroad, there are not supposed to be attacks at home on the policy that the president is advocating abroad," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said.

House leaders said the new House panel generally will supersede China investigations being conducted by as many as eight separate House committees.

That made the panel more palatable to Democrats, frustrated by earlier partisan hearings into President Clinton's alleged China connection conducted by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Democrats put up token opposition, although some complained that the panel's $2.5 million budget seemed extreme for an investigation that can no longer than about six months. Congress' session expires in January.

Others worried that Burton or other committee chairmen might prss ahead with their investigations.

But Cox and Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington, the panel's senior Democrat, promised to do their best to keep other committee chairmen at bay. "What I hope we can do here is lower the rhetoric and get at the facts," Dicks said.

In testimony before a joint meeting of the House International Relations and National Security committees, senior U.S. officials said Thursday they are reconsidering a satellite export already approved by Clinton but which has not yet been launched. The witnesses said a design change may have given the commercial satellite military characteristics.

At issue is a Hughes Electronics' Asia-Pacific mobile telecommunications satellite, which at $750 million is one of the largest satellite export deals to China.

"The capability of the satellite has changed," said John Holum, acting undersecretary of state for political affairs. "As a result, the exporter has to come in and apply for a new license."

Later Thursday, Holum told a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee that encouraging a worldwide reduction in weapons of mass destruction is a cornerstone of U.S. policy that should not be lost sight of in the controversy over technology transfers.

"There is no disagreement between the executive branch and Congress," he said. And Holum added: "China is indispensable to any solution to the nonproliferation problem."

All 10 who voted against creating the select investigating committee were Democrats: Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, Elizabeth Furse of Oregon, Paul E. Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, John Lewis of Georgia, Jim McDermott of Washington, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, John Murtha of Pennsylvania, Jerrold Nadler of New York, James L. Oberstar of Minnesota and Sidney Yates of Illinois.

Written By TOM RAUM

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