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House of Representatives Passes China PNTR Bill

House of Representatives Passes China PNTR Bill 237-197

(Benefits of trade with China tops worries over Beijing) (710)

By Steve LaRocque

Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The House of Representatives voted 237-197 to grant China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status May 24.

The legislation granting China PNTR will also establish a commission to monitor China's human rights abuses, as well as set up a task force on the prohibition of the importation of products of forced labor or prison labor.

The vote was a victory for the Clinton Administration. It was a bipartisan victory for PNTR supporters.

It was also a bipartisan defeat for PNTR opponents. Republicans voted for PNTR by a margin of 164 to 57. Democrats voted against PNTR by a margin of 138 to 73. Both Independents in the House voted against PNTR.

An earlier motion to recommit the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House International Relations Committee failed 176 to 258, setting the stage for the bill's passage.

The motion would have amended the bill to say China would lose PNTR if it attacked, invaded or blockaded Taiwan.

The Senate plans to take up the PNTR legislation in early June, where it is expected to easily pass.

The position of the Clinton Administration and the Republican leadership in Congress prevailed over a coalition of lawmakers concerned with China's oppression of democracy advocates, labor organizers, human rights activists, and religious leaders, that country's environmental record, and its threats to Taiwan.

"I profoundly believe (PNTR) will advance the cause of human rights for the Chinese people, " said Representative Dick Armey (Republican of Texas), the House Majority Leader.

Representative Pete Stark (Democrat of California) disputed that notion. Even supporters of PNTR admitted China had an abysmal record, he said, and he called the proposed Bereuter-Levin Executive-Congressional Commission to monitor human rights abuses "a fig leaf."

Representative David Dreier (Republican of California) said the trade bill could lead to a liberalization of the Beijing regime, and deserved support.

Representative Bill Archer (Republican of Texas) urged his colleagues to "make history today," calling the vote one for American values.

Representative Robert Matsui (Democrat of California) called the vote on China PNTR "the most important vote we will take in a number of years."

On the other side, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Democrat of Missouri) noted that a debate like this "would not happen in China. If you insisted on speaking against the government, you would be arrested.

"A country that fails to respect basic rights," he added, won't respect trade laws. Gephardt also discounted the trade benefits with China, observing that Singapore imports more from the United States than China does.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) said PNTR was a "perverse incentive" to American businesses to close their factories in America and open them in China.

On the other side, Representative Phil Crane (Republican of Illinois) warned that without PNTR, the United States would not have the access that the other 134 members of the WTO would have to China's market.

"Giving China PNTR," said Representative Richard Near (Democrat of Massachusetts), "is better for U.S. interests than denying it."

Representative Sherrod Brown (Democrat of Ohio) said PNTR was part of a process whereby Western companies and investors have shifted funds and investments from emerging democracies and putting them into countries ruled by authoritarian governments such as communist China.

Representative Phil English (Republican of Pennsylvania) observed that "the best way to open minds is to open markets." Engagement, he added, doesn't mean endorsement. Representative Matt Salmon (Republican of Arizona) cited Tibet's Dalai Lama on the importance of not isolating China in urging his fellow lawmakers to support PNTR.

Representative Steny Hoyer (Democrat of Maryland) said opponents and proponents of PNTR were united on the goals of U.S. policy for China -- greater openness, democracy, and human rights, but split on the means of U.S. policy.

He said PNTR, along with China's accession to the WTO, enhances the possibility of democratic reform, market economics, and respect for basic human rights.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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