IT WOULD have been easier politically for President Clinton to shun China, which he will visit later this month, and to deny it most favored nation status, which means normal trade relations. Neither China nor Mr. Clinton is popular in Congress this year.
But China is home to more than 1 billion people. It is one of five long-standing nuclear powers that are also permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and the one chairing the Geneva meeting of those powers' foreign ministers to devise ways to halt the arms race between nuclear newcomers India and Pakistan.
China is either a source of regional tension or of its solution; a partner in environmental, crime and narcotics control, or a nonpartner; and a rapidly developing power with a steadily increasing consumer class, with U.S. participation or without.
Since Beijing replaced Taiwan as the sovereign China recognized diplomatically by the United States, it has enjoyed unbroken most-favored-nation trade status from the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. The issue that Congress must decide is not whether to grant China new benefits, but whether to sever the relationship.
President Clinton is rightly under the microscope because his re-election campaign accepted illegal money from Chinese sources. Critics seek to link this to his waiver allowing U.S. corporations to transfer satellite technology to China that might have military usefulness. This is a serious suspicion requiring serious investigation.
But the technology transfer represents continuity with the Reagan and Bush policies and was advocated by some Republican members of Congress. A proper investigation will not be limited to the Clinton administration.
For Congress to overturn Mr. Clinton's grant of trade status, which it has 90 days to do, would be a radical rupture in relations nurtured by the Reagan and Bush administrations.
It would transform U.S. relations with China from correct to troublesome. That would benefit no one's human rights and serve no U.S. national interest.
Pub Date: 6/07/98