Seller Beware

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Justice Department is investigating charges that $1 billion in McDonnell Douglas civilian airliner equipment, approved by the Clinton Administration for sale to China, was diverted by a Chinese company to build missiles and fighter planes. If true, the news could be especially embarrassing to the Administration, which approved the deal in 1994 over Pentagon objections. The Pentagon argued that the heavy machine equipment, used to shape and bend large aircraft parts, could also be used to boost Chinese arms capability. Apparently, they were right: Recently released satellite photos show that even while the sale was being negotiated, the Chinese government was building a plant to house the equipment at the Nanchang Aircraft Company, a military contractor. In the end, economic considerations overrode national security ones, Admiral Bill Center told The New York Times, which first published the report: "All of us concluded that if McDonnell Douglas didn't sell it, others would, and we wouldn't accomplish anything by saying no."