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The "War Party's" China Hands, the Blue Team
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BLUE TEAM DRAW A HARD LINE ON
Action on Hill Reflects Informal Group's Clout
By Robert G. Kaiser and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 22, 2000; Page A01
While working as an aide to Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), Richard
Fisher collected dozens of photographs and sketches of China's latest
weaponry: the Russian-built Sovremenny destroyer, advanced ballistic
missiles, pilotless drones and Su-27 fighters. Fisher is grimly confident that
someday, these weapons could be aimed at Americans. "This is shaping up
to be a major military disaster for the United States," he said.
Fisher, who moved last month to a Washington think tank, describes
himself as a member of the "Blue Team"--a loose alliance of members of
Congress, congressional staff, think tank fellows, Republican political
operatives, conservative journalists, lobbyists for Taiwan, former
intelligence officers and a handful of academics, all united in the view that a
rising China poses great risks to America's vital interests.
Though little noticed, the Blue Team has had considerable success. By
attaching riders to legislation in Congress, it has restricted the scope of
Chinese-American military relations, forced the Pentagon to report to
Congress in detail on the China-Taiwan military balance and compelled the
State Department to take a harder line on China's human rights and
religious rights abuses.
Some Blue Team allies have promoted public fears of a Chinese
"takeover" of the Panama Canal; several congressional offices report a
deluge of mail about Panama's choice of a Hong Kong firm to operate
shipping facilities at both ends of the canal, a cause taken up by
conservative radio talk show hosts. Allies of the Blue Team have harassed
China's biggest oil company, complicating its efforts to sell shares on the
New York Stock Exchange.
Members of the Blue Team initially drafted and then helped push through
the House of Representatives this month the Taiwan Security Enhancement
Act, a measure to strengthen U.S. military ties with Taiwan that has
angered China. A legislative rider compelled the Pentagon's National
Defense University to establish a new center to study China's military. For
a time last spring, the Blue Team thought publication of the Cox committee
report on Chinese espionage--which its allies helped draft--might lead to
irresistible pressure to alter the Clinton administration's policy of
"constructive engagement" with Beijing. Administration officials feared the
The Blue Team has no membership cards or formal meetings. Its
sympathizers collaborate around particular causes but sometimes disagree
with one another. Some, for example, ridicule fears about the Panama
The core of the alliance consists of Capitol Hill aides who draft
China-related legislation and try to operate as anonymously as possible.
Several of the congressional aides were brought together last year with
like-minded academics and media commentators in a study group run by a
small think tank, the Project for the New American Century, and funded
by Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh billionaire who has given
hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing causes.
The study group was organized by Mark Lagon, a political scientist who
recently joined the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Its
primary purpose was to discuss China policy and help produce a book,
tentatively titled "China's Rise and America's Response." According to one
participant, these meetings sometimes took on the flavor of Blue Team
strategy sessions as two dozen Hill aides, scholars, former Reagan
administration officials and others ate lunch once a month at the Tabard Inn
on N Street NW, and discussed chapters of the book, due out later this
While Blue Team members usually work behind the scenes to urge a
harder American line on China, their cause has been taken up publicly by a
few politicians. Gary Bauer, the former Reagan White House aide and
leader of the Family Research Council, used stinging anti-Chinese rhetoric
in his recently abandoned presidential campaign and said it regularly won a
powerful response from voters. In a speech a year ago to the Republican
National Committee, Cox, chairman of the House Republican Policy
Committee, denounced the Clinton administration for cuddling up to
Beijing, accusing President Clinton of giving Chinese leaders "the full
Lewinsky." But none of the four major candidates for president has
embraced the Blue Team view.
Strong language and with-us-or-against-us judgments are becoming
common in the struggle between the Blue Team and those it sees as its
rivals, whom it calls the "Red Team." Blue Team allies also speak derisively
of "panda-huggers" and "the Relationship Police," referring to those who
seek a close and cooperative U.S. relationship with Beijing.
Scholars who have been targets of Blue Team scorn say there is an
increasingly politicized atmosphere among Sinologists. "It's not as much fun
as it used to be," said Ronald N. Montaperto, a professor at the National
Defense University whom the Blue Team considers soft on China. "Debate
has become very personal and very political, and frequently generates
more heat than light."
For nearly three decades after Richard M. Nixon's opening to China, a
"domestic consensus . . . used to sustain China policy," observed Peter
Rodman, an assistant to Henry A. Kissinger in the early days of China
diplomacy and now a scholar at the Nixon Center here. That consensus,
Rodman said, "was shattered by Tiananmen Square" in 1989, when the
Chinese ruthlessly suppressed a student uprising. "The Soviet threat used
to hold the U.S. and China together," he added. No longer.
The end of consensus has created opportunities for hard-liners to advance
the view that China's steady military buildup will soon put it in a position to
threaten U.S. interests, most obviously by bullying Taiwan. The Blue Team
and its sympathizers think the United States should recognize that conflict
with China is probable if not inevitable.
Officials and scholars who disagree with those views still generally
dominate U.S. policy, but they seem less organized and less cohesive than
the Blue Team. The Clinton administration, which might have provided an
alternative vision of China, instead has offered a series of different China
policies over the last seven years, reflecting the disagreements over China
that followed Tiananmen.
Clinton campaigned for the presidency denouncing the "Butchers of
Beijing" and, once elected, flirted with denying China trade benefits
because of its human rights abuses. But he abruptly abandoned any such
linkage and decided instead to warm up to China's leaders, eventually
embracing President Jiang Zemin's suggestion that China and the United
States could be "strategic partners."
The Blue Team and its allies see China as a rising power run by a
dictatorial regime that suppresses "the Chinese people's yearning for
freedom and democracy" and is determined to challenge the United States,
in the words of William Triplett, an aide to Sen. Robert F. Bennett
(R-Utah) and former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations
Triplett coined the term Blue Team. It comes, he said, from the
terminology of China's own military exercises, which often feature battles
between red and blue teams. Triplett, a former China analyst at the CIA,
and Edward Timperlake, a former Republican foreign policy aide in
Congress, have teamed up to write two books--"Year of the Rat" and
"Red Dragon Rising"--promoting their views. Among them: "a series of
Faustian bargains and policy blunders" by the Clinton administration has
played into China's ambitions to acquire threatening military capabilities.
"Where the [U.S.-China] relationship is going is, frankly, toward conflict,"
said Frank J. Gaffney, a former Hill aide and Defense Department official
in the Reagan administration who now runs a think tank called the Center
for Security Policy. Gaffney compared America's current China policy to
U.S. relations with Japan and Germany before World War II. "In many
ways," Gaffney said, "this is a time not dissimilar to . . . the 1930s."
China experts of all stripes acknowledge that China is buying and building
more modern weaponry, and some say they are worried about the
long-term implications of this modernization, which will increase China's
ability to threaten Taiwan. Most China experts agree that rising nationalism
in a democratic Taiwan combined with a frustrated China could create
dangerous problems. The United States has an informal commitment to
protect Taiwan through its insistence on a peaceful resolution of Taiwan's
differences with Beijing, but the United States also recognizes China's
claim that, ultimately, Taiwan is part of "One China."
Critics of the Blue Team's image of China argue, however, that China is
much too complex, and still much too weak, to describe in the Blue Team's
stark terms. "I don't have my head in the sand," said Paul Godwin, a China
military expert recently retired from the National Defense University. But
he deplored analysts who treat "every rumored Chinese acquisition as a
reality" and "tend to see every weapon as the silver bullet for the PLA," the
People's Liberation Army.
Peter Brookes, an Annapolis graduate, spent part of his Navy career as an
intelligence officer in Nicaragua and El Salvador, helping the contras fight
Soviet-backed Sandinistas. Later he spent three years in Japan, flying
EP-3 surveillance aircraft that sucked up electronic communications from
the eastern-most regions of the Soviet Union.
More than a decade later, Brookes is still on guard against threats to
American security, but he has shifted his sights toward China. In 1997, he
became an adviser on East Asian affairs to the House International
"When I left Asia in May 1989, it was before Tiananmen Square. China
was not a significant threat to American interests. Our main concerns were
the Soviet Union," Brookes recalled. That changed forever, he said, when
China fired missiles near Taiwan in 1996 to try to intimidate Taiwanese
voters casting ballots in their first democratic presidential election.
Like Brookes, many of those who share the Blue Team's view see the
Chinese threat through Cold War lenses. Gaffney built his Washington
career on his anti-Soviet convictions. Fisher, who saves photos of Chinese
weapons, was once a student of the Soviet navy. He moved last month
from Capitol Hill to the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank founded in
1984 as an anti-Soviet institution that has extended its interests to China.
Some who disagree with the Blue Team say its members suffer from
nostalgia for the Soviet threat.
Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.), chairman of the International Relations
subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said that "a significant amount of
support exists in the Congress, especially in my party and especially in the
House," for the theory that China is America's new enemy. "I don't think
you would find anybody who would admit that they need an enemy--they
may not see it themselves--but they do see the benefits" of having one, he
"You don't need to go searching for a new enemy," replied Jim Doran, an
aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) who began his career as a Soviet
analyst and lived in Russia in the early 1990s. "Look at the propaganda in
the Chinese papers. Look at the vitriolic anti-American attitude of that. . . .
It's there for all to see."
Like nearly all the congressional aides who collaborate on the Blue Team
agenda, Doran is not a China expert. He made his first visit to China last
month. Very few of the other Washington-based activists concerned about
the Chinese threat have degrees in Chinese studies or speak Chinese.
But expertise on China is not essential to take a principled view of U.S.
policy, argued Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, which along
with the Washington Times is a primary outlet for Blue Team views. "I'm
not a China expert at all. My view of China . . . flows from my view of
what you think U.S. foreign policy should be," Kristol said. "American
weakness is really the danger."
One prominent China scholar whose views are embraced by the Blue
Team is Arthur Waldron, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania.
While many Sinologists favor constructive relations with China's leadership,
Waldron bluntly asserts that American interests would be better served if
China's communist leaders were displaced. "I worry that if China continues
on its current trend, which is repressing at home and building up . . .
armaments, that becomes very dangerous. I agree with people who think
regime change is key to a really stable peace," he said.
A chronic frustration for the Hill aides who make up the backbone of the
Blue Team is their lack of access to raw intelligence about China. Many
suspect that the administration holds back data that might put Chinese
developments in a more ominous light. Several of the legislative riders
passed in recent years have compelled the executive branch to provide
more information to Congress, particularly on the military balance between
China and Taiwan. But the Blue Team has a strong appetite for more.
Last year Congress enacted a little-noticed requirement that the
administration create a Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at
the National Defense University, headed by "a distinguished scholar . . . of
Chinese political, strategic and military affairs."
The anonymous authors of this idea--members of the Blue Team who don't
seek any public credit for their handiwork--want the center to have access
to the full range of intelligence reporting on China. Because it will be
dependent on annual appropriations from Congress, one Defense
Department official said, the Blue Team hopes the center will be more
willing than traditional intelligence agencies to share raw intelligence with
Although President Clinton signed the defense authorization bill that
included this provision, he also called the creation of the center "troubling"
because it seemed to assume that "China is bent on becoming a military
threat to the United States," a conclusion Clinton rejected. Under the
legislation, the administration is supposed to send Congress its plan for the
center by March 1.
For a brief time last winter and spring, anti-China sentiment in Washington
was sharply ascendant. Some Republicans saw an opportunity to create a
political issue over the Clinton administration's "embrace of Jiang and the
Communist Party," as Rep. Cox put in a January speech.
Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had established the Cox
committee in 1998 to investigate what he called "a profoundly deeper
question than any other question that has arisen in this
administration"--charges that China got American missile technology from
Loral Corp., whose chief executive was the largest individual contributor to
the Democrats in 1996.
That charge had disappeared by the time the Cox committee's report was
published last May. The final report focused on China's efforts to acquire
secrets about missiles and nuclear weapons, and all the Democrats on the
committee signed it, although on the day of its release two key members
distanced themselves from the most alarming conclusions about China
copying U.S. weapons.
Critics found much to fault in the Cox report. One of its most frightening
assertions--that China could be expected to build a nuclear warhead based
on the American W-88 model, thanks to stolen secrets--was challenged
by the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Its accusations of spying got nearly all the attention, but the Cox report
also embraced a dark view of China's broad intentions. The Chinese
Communist Party's "main aim for the civilian economy is to support the
building of modern military weapons and to support the aims of the PLA,"
the report said.
Harvard Prof. Alastair Iain Johnston, a specialist on the Chinese military,
criticized this analysis, arguing that Chinese policy for more than 20 years
has been "to subordinate military modernization to the development of the
overall civilian economy."
Johnston pointed to several errors, including footnotes to sections of the
Chinese constitution that did not say what the Cox report claimed they
said, and a misrepresentation of comments by Chinese leader Jiang. The
Cox report said Jiang in 1997 "called for an 'extensive, thoroughgoing and
sustained upsurge' in the PLA's acquisition of high technology." The article
the committee quoted, Johnston noted, actually said Jiang had ordered an
"extensive, thoroughgoing and sustained upsurge of studying high-tech
knowledge in the whole army."
Asked about Johnston's critique, Cox said, "The facts as reported [in the
committee report] are indeed the facts." The Jiang quotation showed that
the PLA had an "accelerating interest in high technology," which was
"precisely the point the report makes," Cox said.
When the lobbying intensifies this spring or summer on the congressional
vote to grant China permanent "normal trade relations" status--the key step
toward Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization--the Blue
Team's opponents will be out in force. Business groups, farm groups, the
Clinton administration and pro-trade members of Congress will likely
produce a well-greased lobbying effort for passage. All will argue that by
opening its markets to foreign competitors, China will have to advance its
own free-market reforms, strengthen the rule of law and, over time,
moderate its policies.
"It will pass," predicted Robert Kagan, who worked in Ronald Reagan's
State Department and has written eloquent denunciations of America's
China policy in the Weekly Standard. Kagan, who also writes a monthly
column in The Washington Post, said, "You can't block business interests
and free-trade ideology in the Republican Party short of war."
In fact, some members who have been Blue Team supporters on issues
such as Taiwan--House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), for
example--will work for approval of permanent normal trade status for
"I consider the government of China to be dangerous, not only to the
people of China but at least to all the peoples of that region," Armey said in
an interview. But the majority leader, a staunch free trader, also said he
hoped to extend "freedom through commerce to the Chinese people" by
bringing China into the WTO.
The impact of the Blue Team still "isn't nearly what this community [of
hard-liners] desires," lamented Richard Fisher, the former congressional
aide who collects photographs of Chinese weaponry. But he noted with
satisfaction that the Blue Team "strikes terror into the heart" of
Washington's policy establishment, adding: "We are going to continue to
have problems in our relationship with China . . . and they require that
America remain vigilant."
Congressional Action on China
Here is a partial list of actions taken by Congress, almost always over the
Clinton administration's objections, that have had an impact on China
Taiwan Strait report: A rider to the fiscal 1999 defense appropriations bill
requires the Pentagon to produce an annual report on the balance of
military forces across the Taiwan Strait. Promoters see this as a way to
publicize China's growing deployments on its side of the strait and to push
for U.S. military assistance to Taiwan. The first report in February 1999
highlighted China's ballistic missile buildup. A second report is imminent.
Limiting military exchanges: Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) attached a
rider to the fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill limiting the kinds of
weaponry and exercises that the U.S. military can show to visiting People's
Liberation Army officers. It also mandates detailed reports to Congress on
contacts with the Chinese military.
New center: A provision in last year's defense authorization bill requires the
administration to send Congress a plan for a Center for the Study of
Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington.
The provision's authors hope for more critical analysis of China and greater
access to intelligence for Congress. The administation reacted warily;
President Clinton said the authors seemed to assume that China would
inevitably become an enemy, which he disputed.
Tibet envoy: Friends of Tibet in Congress pressed for the appointment of a
U.S. ambassador to Tibet, even though the United States considers the
region part of China. To avoid passage of the bill, the administration named
a special envoy.
Religion report: Congress passed a measure requiring the State
Department to issue an annual report on religious freedom around the
world. Critics of China supported the measure, assuming that the report
would name Beijing. The first report listed China among the worst
Taiwan Security Enhancement Act: The House this month passed this
measure, which would affirm support for Taiwan's security, establish direct
communications between the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries, and require
the administration to share with Congress the list of weapons Taiwan seeks
to buy each year. Supporters of the measure believe the process will build
support for arms sales to the self-governing island that Beijing considers
part of China.
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