- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

The Republican leadership and the Clinton administration scored a major victory yesterday as the House approved historic legislation to expand commercial ties with China.
The permanent normal trade relations (NTR) bill passed by a decisive 237-197 margin, with 73 Democrats joining 164 Republicans to support the measure. Voting against the bill were 138 Democrats, 57 Republicans and two independents.
Jubilant supporters, who had waged a months-long battle that involved constant lobbying by President Clinton, business groups and a bipartisan core of free traders in the House, called the victory a milestone in U.S. trade and foreign policy. They hailed the bill as the most important lever the United States has developed to promote democratic change in China.
"With the passage of [the China trade bill], the forces of reform in China are closer to receiving the tools that they will need to transform an oppressive Communist Party with its tyranny into a free market democracy," said Rep. Tom DeLay, the Republican vote counter from Texas whose strong backing of the measure helped guide it to passage.
The bill, whose passage in the Senate after the weeklong Memorial Day recess is virtually assured, would extend to China permanent access to the U.S. market. That change would ease the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization, a longtime goal of the United States and other major trading powers.
Democratic supporters, whose caucus was divided by the China bill, savored a major victory on a piece of trade legislation. The battle for the bill echoed their successful push for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.
"This is victory for the president," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat who rounded up votes for the measure in his party. "This is a victory for free trade."
Mr. Clinton, who also handed out selected sweeteners to undecided members, praised the bipartisan work behind the campaign, which echoed the tough battle he waged with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, to pass NAFTA. He also described passage of the bill as an endorsement of his administration's policy of engagement with China.
"For China, this agreement will clearly increase the benefits of cooperation and the costs of confrontation," Mr. Clinton said. "America, of course, will continue to defend our interests, but at this stage in China's development we will have more positive influence with an outstretched hand than with a clenched fist."
Business groups, which have been lobbying Congress on the China trade issue for 10 years, heaved a collective sigh of relief that their multimillion-dollar campaign to pass the bill paid off.
Opponents of the China bill, a coalition of labor unions, human rights activists and environmental groups, blamed their loss on what they termed a misleading campaign by major companies. They predicted, as they had before the vote, that the bill would do little to improve human rights in China or the U.S. economy.
"The burden is now on the members who voted for this and the president of the United States to produce some results," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, said careful organization and calculated appeals to conservatives worried about issues like national security and religious freedom helped broaden support among Republicans.
Democrats attributed their solid vote count in large part to an initiative spearheaded by Reps. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican. Their plan, which was included in the bill, would set up a full-time commission to monitor human rights in China, and it would create a special mechanism to guard against sudden surges of Chinese imports.
Defying predictions that the vote would be a cliffhanger, backers of the China trade bill nailed down a victory only six minutes into the 15-minute vote on the House floor. Supporters broke into applause as the electronic vote board edged to 218.
The vote followed last-minute lobbying by both sides in an effort to win over a handful of undecided members. As business lobbyists huddled in a room in the Capitol, Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng and labor leaders made a final round of visits even after the House began debate on the bill late in the morning.
The debate itself proved an anticlimax, as supporters of the legislation appeared on the House floor in a relaxed and even jovial mood. Rep. Matt Salmon, Arizona Republican, read a statement in Chinese describing how Chinese citizens would benefit from the bill.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt began the debate for the opponents, even though the Missouri Democrat has been largely absent from the public debate. He sought to soothe Democratic divisions on the issue by praising the members of his own party who came down on separate sides of the issue.
The highlight of the final debate was a rhetorical duel between Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, that pointed up how divisive the issue had become for Democrats. Invoking the image of sweatshop laborers in China, Mr. Bonior rejected the notion that commerce alone can foster democratic development.
"People tell us commerce is a precondition for democracy," he declared. "They are wrong. They have to grow together."
Mr. Rangel, whose decision to support the China bill was pivotal because of his influence among Democrats, spoke of his service in the Korean War against Chinese troops who overran his unit on the Yalu River. But he rejected arguments that Chinese aggression justified a more confrontational approach to the Asian giant.
"How can we ignore a billion people?" he said.
Republicans, much more united on the issue of trade than Democrats, emphasized the point that Mr. Bonior emphatically rejected. Both Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, insisted commerce will prove to be the most powerful democratizing agent in China.
"We are going to send [China] a glimpse of freedom, and the idea of Illinois' favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator," Mr. Hastert said.

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