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President signs bill granting permanent trade status to China

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton signed into law Oct. 10 legislation granting China, one of the world’s worst violators of religious and human rights, permanent status as a favored trade partner with the United States.

The action ends what had been an annual review of China’s human rights record before granting favored trade status. With Clinton’s signature, China has permanent normal trade relations with this country.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life and conservative religious organizations had opposed PNTR for the communist giant based on the Beijing government’s ongoing persecution of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and other religious adherents, as well as its population-control policy that includes forced abortion and sterilization in some provinces. Other concerns cited by PNTR opponents — which included labor unions, human rights groups and environmental activists — were numerous human and political rights abuses, its negative impact on American workers, China’s military build-up and increased threats toward Taiwan and the United States, and pollution.

Critics say granting PNTR eliminates an important vehicle for holding the Beijing government accountable. Proponents of PNTR say it will open China not only to American products but to increased freedom as well.

In September, the Senate voted 83-15 in favor of PNTR for China. The easy win was expected after the measure passed in a far more contested vote in the House of Representatives. The House approved PNTR by a 237-197 vote in May.

The president signed the legislation despite recent reports critical of China’s record on religious freedom:

— The Clinton administration’s State Department reported in early September “respect for religious freedom deteriorated markedly” in China during part of the last year. The department’s second report on religious freedom overseas again listed China as one of seven totalitarian states.

— In May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Congress not approve PNTR until Beijing made significant improvements in its religious rights record. Suppression of Christians and other religious adherents in China had increased in the last year, the commission reported. The panel was established by Congress and appointed by the president and congressional leadership.

In addition to the ERLC, other opponents of PNTR included the Family Research Council, AFL-CIO, Focus on the Family, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Concerned Women for America, Amnesty International USA, Eagle Forum, U.S. Business and Industry Council and the Sierra Club.

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