June 25, 1997 in Nation/World

House Backs China Trading Ties Puts U.S. Economic Well-Being Over Human Rights Concerns


Despite strong criticism of China’s imprisonment and torture of dissidents and religious leaders, the House on Tuesday endorsed President Clinton’s decision to continue normal trading relations for another year with the world’s largest nation.

Few voices were raised as the House voted 259-173 to maintain the country’s “most favored nation” trade status with the United States.

But Clinton’s allies argued that if the United States toughened its trade rules with China, it would risk a trade war. Further, they said it would cause a break in U.S.-China diplomatic relations, cost U.S. farmers at least $20 billion a year in sales, raise prices on toys and textiles for U.S. consumers, and kill as many as 170,000 U.S. jobs.

The House vote means that for another year, China will be entitled to the same set of tariffs and rules that apply to all but Cuba, North Korea and a handful of other U.S. trading partners. Restrictions on China would have required approval by the House and Senate.

Voting in favor of normal trading rules for China were 147 Republicans and 112 Democrats. Opposed were 79 Republicans, 93 Democrats and one independent.

Proponents of a tougher stance against China claimed progress because their initiative got 32 more votes this year than it received a year ago.

Though Clinton administration officials have accused China of widespread human rights violations, and acknowledged its sale of weapons to rogue states such as Libya and Iraq, the president said normal trade relations would help keep the door open to progress on human rights and other issues.

“Today’s vote was a vote for America’s interests,” Clinton said after the House action. “It makes clear that the right way to encourage further progress in China is not to cut China off, but to draw China in.

“The way China evolves in the years ahead will have an enormous bearing on the shape of the 21st century,” Clinton said.

Many Republicans grudgingly joined with the Democratic president. While denouncing the “tyranny of Beijing,” House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas said normal trade relations “are best for the people of China today and offer the best prospect for liberating them in years to come.”

Nearly everyone joined in denouncing the Chinese government. “We are often outraged by China’s record on human rights,” said Rep. Vic Fazio, D-W. Sacramento. “But cutting off most-favored-nation status would slow the pace of progress on human rights and would jeopardize U.S. interests.”

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