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Clinton asks Congress to pass China trade agreement
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton asked Congress on Wednesday to approve a major trade agreement with Beijing, saying it offers the most significant opportunity for positive change in China since President Nixon's historic visit three decades ago.
"We can work to pull China in the right direction or we can turn our backs and almost certainly push it in the wrong direction," the president said as he submitted legislation to establish permanent normal trade relations with China.
The measure would scrap Congress' annual, contentious review of China's human rights and trade record. The promise of permanent trade privileges was part of a market-opening deal under which China pledged to cut import barriers on American goods and services in return for U.S. support for China's entry into the World Trade Organization
China's trade status is one of the biggest battles facing Congress. It's an issue complicated by election-year politics and an alignment of strange political alliances linking Clinton with Republicans and their business allies against Democrats and their supporters among organized labor, environmentalists and human rights groups.
The White House argues that open trade with China would be a bonanza for American companies and workers, tearing down barriers that have prevented U.S. firms from competing in the world's most populous country.
Critics counter that China violates workers' rights, persecutes religious minorities and cannot be trusted to honor any trade agreements.
Clinton spelled out his case in an address to a sympathetic audience at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advance International Studies. He said the United States has a profound stake in what happens in China and how China relates to the rest of the world.
"Voting against (permanent trade status) won't free a single prisoner (in China) or create a single job in America or reassure a single American ally in Asia," the president said. "It will simply empower the most rigid anti-democratic elements in the Chinese government. It would leave the Chinese people with less contact with the democratic world and more resistance from their government to outside forces.
"Our friends and allies would wonder why, after 30 years of pushing China in the right direction, we turned our backs now that they finally appear to be willing to take us up on it," Clinton said.
He said that the people of Taiwan, despite tensions with China, want to see Beijing in the World Trade Organization.
Moreover, Clinton said that Martin Lee, the Hong Kong leader who has struggled for free elections and freedom of speech, supports the trade deal.
Clinton quoted a letter from Lee as saying that the agreement "represents the best long-term hope for China to become a member of good-standing in the international community. We fear that should ratification fail, any hope for political and legal reform process would also recede."
Clinton said the agreement "represents the most significant opportunity that we have had to create positive change in China since the 1970s, when President Nixon first went there and later in the decade when President Carter normalized relations.
"I am working as hard as I can to convince Congress and the American people to seize this opportunity," the president said.
Republicans are wary about Clinton's commitment and are pushing the president to intensify his efforts. "Clearly, we're not going to get any help from Democrats in the House unless the president gets the votes," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said, "It's fair to say that a day doesn't go by with the president not working on trying to get permanent normal trade relations with China."
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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