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Let's Keep Chinese Spying in Perspective.

By Jimmy Carter

This Op-Ed appeared in USA Today. DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION. Copyright© The Carter Center.

Recent revelations about Chinese espionage are a justifiable cause for alarm among all those who are concerned about the protection of America's military secrets. But it is also important to keep this issue in perspective as it affects already strained U.S.-Sino relations and to remember how nations traditionally react to security breaches.

The bipartisan report of the House Select Committee, which seems to be thorough and accurate, warrants immediate corrective action and, as a secondary priority, an effort to affix blame on those who may have violated the law or been derelict in their duty. However, the revelations have also aroused reactions that are ill advised, counterproduc-tive, and could subvert the potential benefits of the committee's good work.

There are unfounded allegations by both Democrats and Republicans against each other, obviously designed for partisan advantage. Some other American leaders, who have habitually demonstrated animosity toward the People's Republic of China, have attempted to drive a deeper wedge between our two countries at what is already a troubled time.

A Confused Policy Toward China
At best, U.S. policy toward China is very confusing, at least to the Chinese, both because of uncertainties within the administration and because of highly publicized differences between the White House and the Congress on how to address the issues of Taiwan, human rights, trade, and the sharing of political responsibilities in Asia. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has further exacerbated the troubled relationship. This regrettable incident has also injected China, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, into the potential role of negotiating a peaceful resolution of the Kosovo crisis.

It is clear that much is at stake -- for both U.S.-China and global relations. So let's consider some facts about espionage. There are few, if any, nations who would not take advantage of opportunities to learn withheld secrets that could contribute to its military, political, or economic advantage. In fact, although the select committee's attention was focused exclusively on China, it would be surprising if Russia and other nations have not also benefited from the lax policies at our nuclear research laboratories.

The United States certainly seeks to learn what other nations are doing, and we use surreptitious means if necessary to glean this information. Only recently, the celebrated case of Jonathan Pollard has proven this premise. Pollard was found guilty of delivering, over a period of years, some of our most valuable secrets to Israel, our strongest and most reliable ally in the Middle East.

The standard reaction to cases of this kind is to arrest and severely punish American citizens who have committed such treasonous acts, but not to impose penalties on the country that benefited from them. If a foreign spy is caught in our nation, the response is to expel the guilty person and perhaps to include others who are suspect or diplomatically sensitive. When I was president, we even swapped guilty Soviet spies for the freedom of some human rights heroes who were incarcerated in Siberia.

In addition to spying between nations, a major field of espionage is in the commercial world, where France and other advanced nations avidly seek secret information from American business firms -- and vice versa.

Handle Guilty Parties as in The Past
In the current case, no one has been arrested for espionage, and there is no indication that such arrests are imminent. If guilty parties are revealed, they should be handled in the time-honored way.

This still leaves the question of China's improper use of the secret information, either to threaten us directly or to channel advanced weapons to others who might attack the United States. The House committee leaders make clear that the Chinese have not tested or deployed missiles or warheads that include the most advanced technology. In fact, the People's Republic of China has committed itself to comply with the Nuclear Test Ban treaty, and any testing of warheads would be considered a serious violation of international law.

Revelations of spying should lead to legal action against any convicted American spies, and to the treatment of international relations in a customary and historical manner. The past 20 years of diplomatic relations have been extremely valuable to both our nations, and to peace, stability, and economic progress in Asia. These advantages must not be endangered as we correct the mistakes that have been made by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

My hope is that our government can exhibit as much wisdom, judgment, effectiveness, and bipartisan cooperation as has been demonstrated by the select committee.

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