WASHINGTON -- In a bipartisan stampede on a politically explosive issue, the House overwhelmingly voted yesterday to bar the export of U.S.-made satellites and missile technology to China.
The two lopsided votes -- 412-6 against missile technology exports and 364-54 against satellite exports -- reflect the widespread fear of Democrats and Republicans that President Clinton's decision to waive export controls on space technology to China allowed Beijing to hone the accuracy of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that could strike U.S. cities.
"If there is an innocent explanation for all this, the American people haven't heard it," Republican Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina said on the House floor yesterday.
Administration officials criticized the votes on amendments to a $271 billion Pentagon budget bill as a frenzied response to reports that the Chinese military might have funneled campaign money into Democratic committees during the 1996 election campaign. The officials said that if enacted, the measures would seriously damage the U.S. satellite industry.
"If this legislation passes, it will threaten American global leadership in communication and commercial satellite business," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin.
Officials from major satellite companies, including Loral and Lockheed-Martin, declined to comment on the House votes.
The amendments still need the approval of the Senate, where prospects for passage were unclear last night. "I don't know whether we'd see the Senate go along with exactly that kind of response," said Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, whose Governmental Affairs subcommittee will examine the missile technology issue at a hearing today.
As the House debated the amendments, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, announced a multi-pronged Senate inquiry into the transfer of advanced technology to China. Tuesday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia said the House would form a special select committee to investigate the same issues.
But Lott and Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Intelligence Committee who Lott named to lead the Senate inquiry, implicitly criticized the House approach as too time-consuming and too susceptible to partisan battles.
"Everybody here knows that the Senate has a bipartisan intelligence committee," said Shelby. "The House is partisan. I think we'll be a lot better off."
Lott said if Clinton follows through with his trip to China next month, it would be a "tragic mistake" for him to open his visit at Tiananmen Square, the site where the Chinese army crushed a democracy movement in 1989.
Lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill renewed their calls for the administration to release documents related to the technology transfers that congressional committees have requested in recent weeks.
The White House counsel, Charles F. C. Ruff, promised yesterday that the Clinton administration would soon begin turning over to Congress documents about the Chinese launching of American satellites.
Lott and Gingrich had complained recently to Clinton about the "veil of secrecy" the administration had erected around congressional efforts to look into the case of space expertise provided to China in 1996 by executives from Loral Space & Communication and Hughes Electronics Corp.
What happened in 1996 is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Ruff cautioned in a letter to Lott that Justice would be consulted before any documents are turned over to Congress.
So far, the Justice Department has blocked the Pentagon from releasing a classified 1997 report that found that the help the Chinese received in 1996 harmed the national security of the United States by advancing China's missile capabilities, administration officials said.
Hughes and Loral have denied any wrongdoing.
More than 100 House Republicans called upon Clinton to postpone his scheduled trip to China next month, but White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the president has no plans to cancel or reschedule it.
Pub Date: 5/21/98