IN A SPEECH that can be properly described as presidential, Sen. Bob Dole has held to his belief in a policy of normal trading relations with China. His consistency was not without political purpose, for he contrasted it with President Clinton's "complete reversal" on this issue. As a candidate in 1992, he said, Mr. Clinton first described George Bush's policy of extending "most favored nation" trade status to China as "immoral" and then accepted it once he was in office.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee held that Mr. Clinton's "conspicuous silence" on China trade policy had created a situation in which MFN will be a "tough sell" in Congress, where it is opposed by protectionists and human rights activists in both parties. He then proceeded to warn in terms far stronger than any heard from the White House that a refusal to extend current arrangements would set back U.S. relations with China two decades.
While Mr. Dole backed the administration's current move to impose trade sanctions on Beijing for violation of copyright FTC agreements on compact disc recordings, he chastised its reliance on unfulfilled threats in dealing with many foreign governments. "China is not Haiti and cannot be bullied by an American president," the Kansas senator declared, a remark likely to resonate among those who feel White House tough talk has encouraged protectionism.
In standing firm behind the free trade sentiments of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Senator Dole conveyed understanding if not sympathy for China's difficulties with Washington. Rebuking what he called the administration's "vacillation and inconsistency" on such matters as a visit of the Taiwan president to the United States and North Korea's push for nuclear weaponry, the GOP leader called for a coherent strategy in Asia.
His stand will not be popular with the likes of Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms, who regularly push nationalist hot buttons in trying to goad the Republican Party toward protectionism. Mr. Dole conceded that increased trade is not a panacea but noted it already had corroded the central power of the Communist government, promoted the development of market forces, encouraged a reliance on foreign capital and imports and even brought democratic elections at the local level.
Senator Dole, in addressing Asia policy, went a long way toward seizing leadership on the China question from an administration that rushed to threaten sanctions in advance of his speech. And to his credit, he shunned one-upmanship in favor of statesmanship.
Pub Date: 5/10/96