Peking accused of meddling in US democracy

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The Independent Online
The high-powered Senate committee investigating political funding abuses in last year's elections caused a sensation at its opening session yesterday by accusing China of deliberately setting out to influence the political process in the United States.

Addressing the committee's first public hearing, the chairman, Fred Thompson, a former Watergate lawyer and Republican senator for Tennessee, was uncompromising: "The committee believes that high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the US political process," he said.

The committee's vice-chairman, the former astronaut and now Democratic senator for Ohio, John Glenn, offered a revelation of his own. He announced one of the key witnesses, John Huang - an American of Asian origin who became a major fund-raiser at the Democratic Party's National Committee - had agreed to appear before the committee on certain conditions. His request for "limited immunity" from prosecution was due to be considered yesterday afternoon. Mr Huang is alleged to have filtered illegal funds into Democratic Party coffers.

The central role the committee has allotted to China will reverberate through Washington. It is only three weeks since Congress approved the renewal of China's most favoured nation trading status, despite opposition from human rights campaigners.

Until recently, the Administration had been at pains to separate Chinese leaders - who it presented as mostly without blame in relations with the US - and small operators who might exceed their brief through over-enthusiasm. This is the explanation offered, for instance, for the use of US supercomputers for military purposes.

Now, the administration has to deal with allegations that China set out to subvert the political process and may even have influenced Bill Clinton's election.