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House approves trade relations with China despite divisions

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved extending “normal trade relations” — previously known as most-favored-nation status — to China in a vote that divided not only members of the same parties but evangelical Christians as well.
The House voted 264-166 against a resolution that would have revoked the favorable trade conditions for China that most countries enjoy. The vote came on the same day, July 22, President Clinton signed legislation reforming the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS bill included language changing the MFN designation to “normal trade relations.”
“This vote reflects my conviction that active engagement with China — expanding our areas of cooperation while dealing forthrightly with our differences — is the most effective way to advance our interests and our values,” Clinton said after the House vote.
The normally annual debate over China’s trade status did not generate quite as much pre-vote rhetoric this year as it did in 1997, when the resolution disapproving of the president’s extension of MFN status was defeated 259-173.
Marked division still existed. While 149 Republicans voted in the majority this year, 78 GOP members backed the resolution. Democrats were split, with 115 in the majority and 87 not.
The division among evangelicals on the issue grew. Gary Bauer, president of Family Research Council, continued to lead the charge against normal trade relations with the communist giant. Pat Robertson, however, who founded Christian Coalition, said in a June 30 Wall Street Journal commentary Bauer’s approach was “morally irresponsible and politically ignorant.” Christian Coalition opposed MFN status for China last year.
In the House itself, evangelicals were split. Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.; Rep. Tony Hall, D.-Ohio, and Rep. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., opposed normal trade relations, while Rep. Steve Largent, R.-Okla.; Rep. J. C. Watts, R.-Okla., and Rep. Jim Ryun, R.-Kan., favored the extension.
After the vote, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed his continued opposition to normal trade status for China.
“We believe that nations that want to be in normal, friendly, healthy relations with the United States should be nations that respect rather than trample upon the human rights of their citizens,” Land said. “Unfortunately, China far too often still falls into the category of the latter rather than the former. Most-favored-nation (‘normal trade relations’) status is a tremendous benefit to those countries who receive it. Our government should expect more from China than it has gotten so far.”
On the House floor, members of the same party expressed their disagreement. Those opposed to normal trade status for China cited a trade deficit of about $60 billion between the two countries, the communist country’s widespread human rights violations and its transfer of nuclear weapons to other governments in support of their position.
“Every violation that could be made of human rights has been made [in China], and there is no progress,” said Rep. Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., House minority leader, during floor debate. “Look at the record. If the policy were working, the record would be different.
“Our trade deficit with China is financing the present leadership in China. They have a deficit with other countries put together. We are the only country they have a huge surplus with. In effect, our trade policy is financing the policy that they follow.”
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D.-Ind., disagreed, saying, “To withdraw normal trade relations from China is to declare economic warfare against China. We cannot declare economic warfare against China and expect China to play by our rules on nonproliferation and human rights and security. Political engagement and economic cooperation go hand in hand. You cannot separate the two.”
The battle over China’s trade status has resulted in some unusual coalitions the last couple of years in particular. Christian and pro-family organizations have joined with labor unions and human-rights activists to call for the revocation of normal trade status for China because of the communist power’s persecution of Christians and other religious adherents, as well as the government’s coercive abortion policy and other violations of human rights.
While American businesses have led the fight for extending normal relations with China, more Christian leaders supported it this year. They appeared to come to the same conclusion that evangelist Billy Graham did in 1997. In a letter to a congressman, Graham, who believes such relations will help the spread of the gospel, implicitly endorsed MFN, saying he was “in favor of doing all we can to strengthen our relationship with China and its people.”