Other Foreign Companies Avoid Port Scrutiny

Many port terminals in the United States are operated by foreign companies. One terminal in New York is operated by Orient Overseas Investment Limited, based in Hong Kong. OOIL is closely linked to the Communist party and its army in mainland China.

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Members of Congress are continuing their attacks on the Bush administration over the Dubai Ports deal. The White House approved the turnover of the management at some U.S. port terminals to a company owned by the government of Dubai. Some lawmakers have said no company owned by a foreign government should be able to work in U.S. ports. But, as NPR's Adam Davidson reports, several U.S. port terminals are owned by foreign governments or by companies with close ties to foreign regimes.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

The New York Container Terminal is at Howland Hook in Staten Island, New York City. Most days it does routine civilian port work, loading and unloading containers from ships. But the terminal is also part of the U.S. military deployment process. John Pike is director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military information site. He says Howland Hook is near the home base of the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Director, GlobalSecurity.org): And so when 10th Mountain wants to go somewhere, they drive their equipment down to Howland Hook and it gets loaded on ships there to get shipped overseas.

DAVIDSON: A 10th Mountain Division spokesperson confirmed the unit has used the terminal at least twice in the last year for deployment of units to Iraq. When used for military deployment, the terminal is still operated by the company that has the management contract. In this case, that company is owned by the Orient Overseas International Group, which, in turn, is owned by the family of CH Tung. Steve Orlins, of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, says Tung is tightly linked to the Chinese government.

Mr. STEPHEN A. ORLINS (President, National Committee on United States-China Relations): Oh, certainly the chief executive would have to be somebody acceptable to the Chinese authorities, and he was and is, and is, you know, closely allied with the leadership in Beijing.

DAVIDSON: Orlins worked as an advisor to CH Tung and the Orient Overseas Company in the 1980s. He says that Tung is now vice chairman of a leading Communist Party committee. So the company is not owned by the Chinese government, but it is owned by a high-ranking Chinese government official.

Mr. ORLINS: Well, I mean, it's his family company, and he has close ties with the leadership. So it's a fair conclusion that they have, the company has close ties with the leadership.

DAVIDSON: Executives at Orient Overseas in the New York container operation did not return NPR's calls for comment. Several other terminals are, in fact, directly government-owned. A company owned by U.S. ally Singapore's government manages terminals in Los Angeles. The Venezuelan government owns oil company CITGO, which operates ten marine terminals in the U.S. GlobalSecurity.org's Pike notes that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been a leading critic of the U.S., and that Pentagon planners consider China to be a major potential rival.

Mr. PIKE: Well, certainly if you think about challenges to American national security, China would have to be at the top of the list, Venezuela not too far from the top of the list, and Dubai, a country that's host to a lot of American military activities, would have to be pretty close to the bottom of the list.

DAVIDSON: Pike is quick to point out that he, like most national security experts, does not see a threat in foreign ownership of terminal management contracts. He says Dubai Ports World, just like the Chinese and Venezuelan companies, pose little to no risk. China expert Orlins agrees. He says all of these companies are well-respected international business concerns that would never use terminal management to attack the U.S.

Mr. ORLINS: I think you'd have to make such wild assumptions to get there that it's ludicrous.

DAVIDSON: The Chinese company has operated Howland Hook since 1996. Venezuela acquired full ownership of Citgo in 1990. And neither company has ever received the same level of Congressional scrutiny as Dubai Ports World.

Adam Davidson, NPR News, New York.

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