May 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Gephardt To Attack Normal Trade Ties With China

New York Times

Breaking with the Clinton administration again, Rep. Richard Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, plans to denounce normal trade relations with China today, asserting that such terms would help China’s leaders and “contribute to their tyranny and reinforce their contempt for America’s resolve.”

Calling current policy in Beijing “free-market Stalinism,” Gephardt, in a speech to be delivered at the Detroit Economic Club, said that efforts to advance democracy through trade were futile.

“Economic growth for the elite will not lead to basic human rights for billions,” he said, bluntly contradicting President Clinton’s contention last Monday that trade ties are “the best way to bring China into the family of nations and to secure our interests and our ideals.” Clinton elaborated, saying, “We hope that it will come to respect human rights more and the rule of law more.”

Last week Gephardt, of Missouri, condemned the budget deal Clinton struck with congressional Republicans.

That position was widely cited as just another move in preparing to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 against Vice President Al Gore. But Gephardt said then, “That decision hasn’t been made and won’t be made for some time.”

The Detroit speech, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times, is sure to renew that speculation, though his aides contended on Monday that it was consistent with his vote against renewing normal trade status for China last June. But last June, the House approved renewal, 286 to 141, Clinton was running for re-election, and Gephardt did not embarrass him by making a speech on the issue. Now Clinton is not running and Gephardt may be.

On the budget, only a third of the House Democrats joined Gephardt in voting against the measure. Some who were dubious voted for it anyway, knowing they faced certain defeat and future television advertisements against them saying they opposed a balanced budget.

Gephardt may have more influence on the issue of renewing normal trade relations, known as “most favored nation” status, however, because the odds are uncertain and the political risks slight.

In the House, Gephardt joins an ideologically scattered coalition ranging from diehard socially conservative Republicans to labor union Democrats who already have high hopes of winning a vote to reject Clinton’s decision. But they frankly concede they have little hope of winning in the Senate and none of overriding a veto by the president.

The House is likely to vote on extending China’s trading status in late June or in July.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email