- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

President Clinton called on Congress yesterday to promote the development of democracy in China by giving the Asian giant permanent normal trade status.
In a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in the District of Columbia, Mr. Clinton pledged to pull out all the stops in an effort to win congressional approval for permanent normal trade relations (NTR) with China, a move that would pave the way for Beijing to join the World Trade Organization.
Mr. Clinton's impassioned case for his administration's policy of "strategic engagement" with China came as the White House sent legislation to Congress that would extend permanent NTR to China.
"[I]f you believe in a future of greater openness and freedom for the people of China, you ought to be for this agreement," Mr. Clinton said. "It's an historic opportunity and a profound American responsibility."
The speech was part of a concerted campaign by the White House to win the trade status. Mr. Clinton has met with numerous members of Congress about the issue, and Cabinet officials plan to take a group of undecided House members to China in an effort to secure their support.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey yesterday predicted that the China trade legislation eventually would pass the House, where pro-trade forces face their toughest battle to win the support from the chamber's Democrats since their failed effort to pass "fast-track" trade-negotiating authority in 1997.
"I expect and intend to see us pass" the legislation, the Texas Republican told reporters yesterday. Republicans will "work with the president in every possible way and figure any way we can to get the job done," probably in June.
House Minority Whip David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, has said that opponents have almost enough votes to kill the legislation in the lower chamber.
The Clinton administration wants Congress to abolish the annual review of China's trade status and extend it permanent NTR this year. The change would allow the United States to bring China into the WTO under the terms of a landmark trade agreement negotiated in November.
China has NTR status, but it must be renewed in a controversial House vote each year.
The bill the White House sent to Congress would give the president the authority to extend permanent NTR to China once Beijing is admitted to the WTO, provided China does not back away from the conditions included in last year's deal.
To join the WTO, China must wrap up individual agreements with other member nations on their access to the Chinese market. And existing WTO members, acting together, must approve China's plans to comply with other trade rules.
Trade officials from the United States and other countries have said that it is not clear when these talks would conclude.
Rep. Philip M. Crane, the House's top Republican for trade legislation, said the bill is a "good first step" in signaling that the White House is serious about passing permanent NTR for China.
"The president has worked hard on this agreement, and now he must work equally hard to secure enough members in his party to pass this plan later this year," the Illinois Republican said.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sens. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, and Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, urged their Senate colleagues in a letter not to seek a quick vote on the bill.
"We believe this legislation is much too important to be rushed in this fashion," they wrote.
Some NTR supporters have suggested that the Senate act on the legislation quickly to generate momentum for a House vote, though Senate aides have downplayed this strategy.
Mr. Wellstone and Mr. Hollings also demanded that the Clinton administration make public the details of the U.S.-China trade deal so that the issues surrounding NTR can be "seriously examined in extensive floor debate."
Though it has revealed many details of the agreement, the administration has refused to release its text, citing the need to support other countries' ongoing negotiations with China.
In his one-hour speech, Mr. Clinton laid out a comprehensive case for approval of permanent NTR, arguing that it is the best contribution the United States can make to support forces in China trying to open up that country.
Rejecting permanent NTR for China "would be a gift to the hard-liners in China's government who don't want their country to be part of the world," Mr. Clinton said.
"By joining the WTO, China is not simply agreeing to import more of our products, it is agreeing to import one of democracy's most cherished values economic freedom," he said.
Though China has at best a spotty record of complying with bilateral trade agreements, Mr. Clinton argued that a multilateral group like the WTO offers a better chance of enforcing trade deals with China than does American pressure.
"We're still better off having a system in which actions will be subject to rules embraced and judgment passed by 135 nations," he said.
Mr. Clinton also placed WTO membership for China in the context of a long-term U.S. foreign policy that has sought to entice China into joining the world community on a basis acceptable to the West.
"For 30 years, every president, without regard to party, has worked for a China that contributes to the stability of Asia, that is open to the world, that upholds the rule of law at home and abroad."
He conceded that only the Chinese, and not WTO membership, can create positive change in China. But he argued that the economic liberalization required by WTO rules represents the best hope for a political opening in that authoritarian nation.
"The more China liberalizes its economy, the more fully it will liberate the potential of its people, their initiative and their imagination," he said. "And when individuals have the power not just to dream but to realize their dreams, they will demand a greater say."
The president also reviewed the economic benefits of the agreement, which the administration consistently has highlighted as the main argument for permanent NTR.
The WTO agreement "requires China to open its markets, with a fifth of the world's population … to both our products and services in unprecedented new ways," he said. "All we do is agree to maintain the present access [to the U.S. market], which China enjoys."

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