President Clinton renewed China’s favorable trade status Monday, touching off a noisy debate on Capitol Hill about China’s policies, even though expectations are low that trade could be used this year to bludgeon the Chinese leadership into changing its behavior.
Administration officials had made no secret of Clinton’s intention to extend China’s “most favored nation” trade status, so the announcement came as no surprise.
With the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., also on record in favor of unconditional renewal, MFN status almost certainly will survive any congressional attempt to scuttle it in protest of China’s economic, defense and human rights policies.
An ad hoc coalition of anti-Communist, anti-abortion, protectionist, labor and human rights groups vowed a vigorous campaign against the action.
In announcing his decision, Clinton said renewal is necessary if the United States hopes to exert any influence on Chinese policy. He said that the action is not intended to reward China.
“MFN renewal is not a referendum on all China’s policies,” Clinton said. “It is a vote for America’s interests.
“Revoking MFN and, in effect, severing our economic ties to China would drive us back into a period of mutual isolation and recrimination that would harm America’s interests, not advance them,” he said.
In the lexicon of international trade, MFN means that a country enjoys the same status as “the most favored nation.” Since nearly all countries qualify, the phrase really means that a country with “most favored” status is the same as almost all others. The United States has MFN agreements with all nations except Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, and Vietnam. Iran and Iraq have MFN status, despite other U.S. efforts to isolate their regimes.
Congress now has 60 days to consider legislation blocking the renewal. But if the lawmakers approved such a bill, Clinton certainly would veto it, meaning it would take more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers to revoke China’s trade status.