TIME On Politics:
Britian to China: The Big Handover (6/30/97)
One Country, Many Systems: Inside China (6/30/97)
Withdrawing MFN Won't Change China
Congress Prepares To Vote On China Trade
Anti-China sentiment is on the rise, and the vote could be close
By R. Morris Barrett/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 23) -- Few people expect Congress to countermand President Bill Clinton's announced intention to renew most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status for China this year. But Tuesday's House debate and vote on China trade promises to be the most heated in years, highlighting increased skepticism about China in Congress and especially among Republicans.
China was first granted most-favored-nation status in 1980, a trade status enjoyed by most nations which simply allows foreign goods to be sold in the U.S. with normal (usually low) tariffs. But as required by the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment governing relations with communist powers, presidents are required to provide annual trade waivers for China.
Clinton announced his intention to renew China's trading status May 19, as all presidents have done since 1980. He echoed longstanding arguments that the United States' interests were better served by a policy of engagement, and that America had "a huge stake in the continued emergence of China in a way that is open economically and stable politically."
After Clinton's statement, Congress had 90 days to pass legislation revoking most-favored-nation status; otherwise the president's edict simply takes effect. Last year, a disapproval resolution failed by a wide margin, and House members on both sides of the debate acknowledge the votes don't exist this year to override a certain veto. But the debate promises to showcase the increasingly ramped-up debate on China policy that cuts across party lines. With many members still undecided, the vote could be close.
Engagement or appeasement?
Since 1989, when China's rulers gunned down several hundred peaceful demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, renewal has provoked an annual debate over U.S. China policy, with some questioning whether normal trade should be revoked or tied to improved human rights performance.
During the Bush years, those voices were mostly Democratic, with former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and Reps. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) taking the lead on legislation that would condition MFN on demonstrable improvements to human rights.
Now, however, many of the loudest voices on Capitol Hill opposing normal trade relations are Republican. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.) are the main sponsors of legislation to cut it off. With another opportunity to distance himself from Democratic presidential heir apparent Al Gore, Gephardt is likely to be in the opposition this year as well.
Critics portray the policy of engagement as a failure, one that has been tried but now amounts to appeasement of Beijing oppression and policies hostile to the U.S. They point to recent State Department findings that China's human rights violations have increased in recent years; that China's military exports to U.S. enemies such as Iran have continued; that China's military build-up continues; that China's oppression of free expression continues; and that America's trade deficit with China has ballooned to some $40 billion, due in part to China's restrictive trade policies.
In a letter to Clinton, former trade status backer Rep. Bill Paxon asked, "After four years of a 'constructive-engagement' policy, what do we have to show for it? A Chinese regime which thumbs its nose at the United States and places its heel on the neck of freedom."
"The bottom line," says Solomon in an accompanying opinion piece, "is that engagement is just a fancy name for an old, and also failed, policy: appeasement."
Many in Congress, notably Helms, have focused on the fate of Hong Kong, which returns to Beijing's control July 1. Though he's backed away from the idea, House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed granting MFN for six months while the U.S. assesses the Hong Kong transition.
Another thorn in Clinton's China policy is the ongoing controversy surrounding campaign fund-raising. Solomon and other Republicans also have questioned whether MFN should be renewed when Congress and the Justice Department are actively pursuing allegations that China tried to funnel cash to U.S. elections.
"It would be irresponsible to grant MFN until we get to the bottom of the credible allegations that China has attempted to buy influence in the American political process and conduct economic espionage," he was quoted as saying in USA Today.
In a new twist to the MFN debate, Christian conservatives have joined the mostly left-wing opposition coalition of human rights activists and labor groups. Now, they're among the most outspoken critics of China appealing to pro-life, pro-faith elements in the GOP.
"Should America keep silent about China's massive campaign of forced abortions and compulsory sterilizations? Should America avoid criticizing China's use of slave labor in the Laogai?" Family Research Council head Gary Bauer asked in an open letter to members of Congress. "Is America really the 'moneybag democracy' the Chinese rulers contemptuously call us?"
The influential Christian Coalition also opposes trade with China while human rights abuses persist, and has let lawmakers know that the trade vote will be on its annual scorecard.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.