In what has become an annual act of futility for critics of China, the House Thursday rejected a measure to deny normal trade status for China.
The House, in a 286-141 vote, defeated a motion to disapprove President Clinton’s May 31 decision to extend standard trade privileges to China for another year.
“This is not a vote on whether we approve or disapprove of China’s actions,” said Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee. “This is a vote on how best to protect U.S. interests and to promote American ideals.”
The anti-China rhetoric was particularly intense this year, with accusations of abuses in human rights, trade and weapons proliferation. “This is fundamentally an evil group of people. This is the evil empire of modern times,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.
The United States has granted China “most favored nation” trade status, or the normal low tariffs levied on almost all U.S. trading partners, since 1980. But following China’s 1989 crackdown of the student democracy movement, Congress has tried unsuccessfully each year to overturn decisions by presidents Bush and Clinton to extend that status for another year.
The administration has argued that a trade war with China would cause serious harm to American businesses, that Chinese reformers would be hit the hardest by sanctions.
But critics say business-as-usual is wrong when China is guilty of widespread human rights abuses, steals U.S. intellectual property, sells weapons of mass destruction to countries such as Pakistan and threatens the democratic government on Taiwan.
Clinton announced in late May that he was renewing China’s trade status for another year. Congress had 60 days from then to reject that decision.