China Seen In Two Divergent Lights In Halls Of Congress
By Candy Crowley/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 25) -- Up on Capitol Hill, when it comes to consideration of China's behavior and America's response to it, two distinct views emerge, cutting across party lines.
Consider this critique of President Bill Clinton's trip to China from conservative Republican, and possible 2000 presidential candidate, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri:
"Bill Clinton will travel to communist China. There, he'll offer slick words of appeasement to the world's worst persecutor of people of faith, to the world's worst proliferator of nuclear weapons and to the worst perpetrator of weapons of mass destruction and to our worst trading partner," Ashcroft says.
Across the aisle, moderate Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut has such a different view that one might wonder if he's talking about the same country:
"Bottom line, China is moving in the direction we want it to move in. There are more human rights today. There's more religious openness. There's more economic openness, which will lead to more political openness," Lieberman says.
Today, China is not an enemy but it's not a friend, either -- and therein lies plenty of room for argument. Always prickly, the U.S.-Chinese relationship has been rubbed raw these days on Capitol Hill.
A House committee continues to probe allegations that the Chinese tried to buy their way into the U.S. political process through illegal campaign contributions. Another House committee and four Senate committees are probing whether U.S. satellite business with China gave it access to sensitive technology that could be used to improve delivery of nuclear weapons.
In July, the middle of an election year, Congress will also have its annual fight over whether China should continue to enjoy most-favored-nation trading status, known by the acronym MFN. Clinton and his centrist allies support continuing MFN for China; the opposition consists of an unlikely alliance of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.
"I think this is really a good example of the commercial calculus and ties taking precedence over everything else," says Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who is also considering a 2000 presidential run. "It's sort of like the almighty dollar is triumphing over a lot of other values that we have as a nation."
Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), another possible 2000 contender, will also vote against MFN for China, despite his usual pro-business credentials.
"When the business community gets uptight, what I tell them is, ‘You know, at the end of the day, it's not just about how much money you make. It's also about some of the things you stand for,'" Kasich says.
Critics of continuing MFN point to China's export of nuclear technology to Pakistan and other nations; the huge gap between what China imports to the United States versus what it allows the U.S. to import into China; and human rights abuses from Beijing to Tibet.
However, despite often fierce debate on the issue, Congress has never successfully opposed MFN status for China.