'Nutty debate' over China trade Annual Beijing bashing: Clinton should not have to veto doomed proposal.


HOW LONG, pray tell, will the U.S. Congress go through the annual charade of pretending it is really, honest-to-gosh thinking of ending normal trade relations with China?

Perhaps as long as Nancy Pelosi, a California liberal, and Christopher Smith, a New Jersey religious conservative, find common cause in assailing Beijing's deplorable human rights record; or House minority leader Richard Gephardt pushes his campaign for the presidency.

As everyone on Capitol Hill well knows, the latest effort to rescind the mis-named "most favored nation" (MFN) trade policy toward China is doomed once again to fail. Sen. Max Baucus calls it a "nutty debate." MFN status is accorded to every nation in the world with the exception of six pariahs. If the United States were to try to exclude one-fourth of the human race from the

global trading system, it rather than China might wind up isolated, according to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

There may be some merit, but not too much, in House Speaker Newt Gingrich's ideas for alternative ways of punishing China. Like stepped up propaganda broadcasts (acceptable). Or selling missiles to Taiwan (unacceptable). But this is just a ploy on Mr. Gingrich's part. A true free-trader, he basically joins with President Clinton in considering increased economic contact with China the best means of encouraging economic and political reforms.

The vote on the China trade issue this year will come at a particularly sensitive time -- just before Hong Kong is taken over by the communist mainland regime on July 1. Nothing could be more adverse to Hong Kong's well-being than a posturing congressional vote to rescind MFN while knowing the president's promised veto cannot be overridden.

It would cast a pall on the formal transfer of authority, which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will attend, and the swearing in of an unelected Hong Kong legislative unit, which she rightly will boycott. This puts Chinese President Jiang Zemin on notice his government's treatment of Hong Kong will be high on the agenda when he visits Washington in October.

While critics of an open trade policy toward China contend their course will promote democracy in China, there is little to show that this is so. On the contrary, the weight of the evidence suggests free trade and free market growth is the more likely road to freedom.

Pub Date: 6/13/97

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