HOUSE DECLINES TO RESTRICT CHINA TRADE VOTE CONDEMNS RIGHTS ABUSES, WEAPONS SALES

HOUSE DECLINES TO RESTRICT CHINA TRADE VOTE CONDEMNS RIGHTS ABUSES, WEAPONS SALES

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to condemn China's human rights practices and illegal weapons sales, but declined to act on a tougher measure that would have greatly restricted its exports to the United States as punishment for these policies.

The bill passed by the House 416-10 makes a series of "findings" that have no effect on the Clinton administration's policy toward China but serve to air complaints about China. Its most substantive parts would require the administration to report to Congress every six months on relations with China, and begin broadcasts to China within 90 days of pro-democracy propaganda on a Radio Free Asia.Immediately after the vote, the House agreed by acclamation to table a resolution that would have revoked equal tariff treatment for China's exports to the United States, also known as "most-favored nation" status.

For most of the last six years, the House has approved a bill revoking this tariff treatment - effectively putting trade sanctions on most Chinese products - but the measure has either not made it through the Senate, or been vetoed by the White House. This year, the supporters of that trade retaliation faced defeat in the House, and chose to strike a deal with opponents of the tariff action against China that resulted in the bill passed Thursday.

The agreement among congressional leaders to table the tariff resolution caused some grumbling among traditional supporters of the measure, like Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. He said that the substitute measure approved Thursday would not bother Chinese leaders, who he sarcastically said were "quaking in their boots - They're laughing all the way to the bank."

Among the "findings" in the bill:

* China routinely violates international standards on human rights through torture and detention of prisoners without charge;

* It imprisons persons for expressing their political beliefs;

* It is improperly detaining U.S. citizen Harry Wu, a native of China who has complained about China's human right practices, and is treating other dissidents the same way;

* It improperly restricts imports and suppresses labor organizing;

* It has violated weapons control treaties.

The bill directs the Clinton administration to pursue a number of initiatives with China, all of them already goals of U.S. policy, including the release of Mr. Wu, the promotion of freedom of speech, an end to torture, forced labor and other human rights abuses, and an end to religious persecution and civil rights abuses in Tibet.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor called the vote "a significant step toward solidifying a firm foundation for U.S.-China relations," although he said that the administration had not taken no position on it. The Senate may well never take up the bill.