Chinese reject U.S. conditions on trade status


BEIJING -- Chinese officials blew hot and cold yesterday in response to the U.S. Senate's move to attach stringent conditions to the renewal next year of China's most-favored-nation trading status with the United States.

China's state-controlled TV news last night briefly mentioned the Senate's action on Tuesday, reiterating the Foreign Ministry's long-held stance that attaching such conditions represented unacceptable interference in Chinese internal affairs.

But earlier in the day, a foreign trade official expressed gratitude to President Bush in the expectation that he would carry out his promise to veto any MFN conditions in favor of unconditionally extending the trade status and that the veto would withstand any attempt at a congressional override.

At the same time, Ye Rugen, the foreign trade spokesman, criticized Mr. Bush's recent decisions to tighten controls on U.S. technology exports to China and to deny the export of satellite parts to China.

"Any country's share in the Chinese market will depend on the degree of openness of their technology exports to China," Mr. Ye added, in an indirect threat that China might cut down on its purchases of other U.S. products in retaliation.

In Washington, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the White House was pleased it had the votes to sustain a veto.

"The president has said he will veto this bill, and he will," Mr. Fitzwater said.

The MFN status, which must be renewed annually, gives Chinese exports to the United States the same low tariffs enjoyed by most other nations.

The United States is now China's largest export market, and possible loss of MFN status would be a costly blow to many industries located in China's southern and coastal provinces.

But for the second year since the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests here, Congress has been pushing the Bush administration to use MFN renewal as a means to induce changes in China's human rights record.

This year, concerns over China's arms sales and trade practices also have been drawn into the MFN debate.

The House earlier this month passed a bill calling for signs of improvement in these areas as the price of renewing China's MFN status next year. The Senate added even more conditions to its own bill Tuesday.

Various conditions in the legislation call for China to: release all political prisoners; not sell nuclear weapons technology to Syria, Iran or Pakistan; halt military aid to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and not use forced abortions and sterilizations to enforce its one-child-per-family policy.

Unlike the House measure, however, the Senate bill did not pass by a two-thirds majority, indicating that the Senate might not be able to muster enough votes to override a veto.

While China has stuck to its public stance of rejecting the renewal of MFN status with conditions and of praising President Bush's position, many Chinese and Western observers believe that the congressional debate over the last two years has led to some shifts in Chinese positions.

For example, before last year's debate on MFN renewal, China released hundreds of political prisoners held since shortly after the 1989 crackdown.

And this year, China has shown new cooperation with the West in attempting to resolve the Cambodian civil war, has allowed visiting Western diplomats to engage officials in discussions of human rights and has moved to end the mislabeling of textile products exported to the United States, a practice by which China evaded U.S. import quotas.

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