WASHINGTON -- The Senate brushed aside a veto threat from President Bush yesterday, voting easily to condition the renewal of normal trading status between the United States and China with strict requirements on Beijing to improve its behavior on human rights, arms control and trade.
The bill was endorsed 55-44, well short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto. Nevertheless, the Senate's action, which followed the overwhelming passage of a similar bill by the House, underscored deep congressional restiveness over President Bush's policy.
Both Maryland senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, voted for the bill.
"They massacred young people and working men in Tiananmen Square," said Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., referring to the Chinese government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989. "Do we really want to extend MFN, most-favored-nation treatment, to a regime like this? My conscience tells me no."
Most-favored-nation status confers the lowest available tariffs on exports to the United States. Though its name makes it sound exclusive, it is granted to all but a few nations. China was granted most-favored-nation status in 1980 and has had that status renewed annually ever since.
The bill approved yesterday would impose prerequisites that would have to be met before the status could be renewed in July 1992.