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Despite improving U.S.-China relations, as evidenced by the recent visit of the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to Beijing, espionage is still a major factor in relations between the two countries. In late March, Chi Mak, a 66‑year‑old engineer for a California defense contractor, went on trial in Santa Ana for allegedly stealing military secrets for China.
Chi Mak and his 57‑year‑old brother, Tai Mak, were under FBI surveillance for several months. Agents tapped the brothers' telephones, planted listening devices in their cars, sifted through their trash and installed a closed‑circuit camera above Chi Mak's dining‑room table. Investigators suspected that Chi Mak was taking restricted documents about naval technology from Anaheim‑based defense contractor Power Paragon and passing them to his brother, who was going to deliver them to a contact in China.
In October 2005, Tai Mak and his wife were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport as they were preparing to board a flight to China. In their luggage was a set of English‑instruction compact discs, one of which contained encrypted files on Navy electric‑drive propulsion systems that would make submarines quieter and hence more difficult to detect. The Chinese‑born Chi Mak, who became a U.S. citizen in 1985, and his wife were arrested the same day at their home in Downey.
Chi Mak is charged with conspiracy to export U.S. secrets to China, possession of property in aid of a foreign government and failure to register as a foreign agent. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more than 50 years in prison.
Tai Mak, his wife and son, and Chi Mak's wife face a separate trial in May.
But Closer Ties?
During the recent visit to China by Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both U.S. and Chinese officials discussed increasing "transparency" about the on-going modernization of the Chinese armed forces. One possible aspect of this effort, believed to have been discussed is establishment of a "hot line" between U.S. and Chinese military officials, to be used primarily to defuse future crises between the two nations.
Examples of past incidents that might have benefited from such a communications link were the collision of a Chinese fighter and a U.S. EP-3E Orion reconnaissance aircraft, the surfacing of a Chinese submarine near a U.S. carrier task group, and the use of a Chinese anti-satellite weapon to destroy an outdated satellite.
Such a hot line would most likely connect the Chinese and U.S. military high commands. To some degree it would be modeled on the U.S.-Soviet/Russian hot line established in 1963 in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That situation, in October 1962, brought the world closer to nuclear conflict than at any time during the 45 years of the Cold War.
The June 20, 1963, agreement between the U.S. and Soviet governments established a teleprinter circuit linked by land and underwater cables that ran from the Pentagon in Washington to the Kremlin in Moscow. Another duplex radiotelegraph circuit, that followed another route, was established as a backup link. The initial system did not have telephone-voice links, despite such media being shown in the popular movies Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe. However, subsequent modernization programs, which began in 1971, provided satellite communication links, high‑speed facsimile systems, and voice channels.