NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Declaring that he was "trying to chart a moral course through a world of lesser evils," President Bush announced yesterday that he would continue China's trading privileges for another year. But he sought to reduce the political impact of his decision by imposing new restrictions on missile technology exports to China.
"We want to promote positive change in the world through the force of our example, not simply profess our purity," Mr. Bush said in a speech to the graduating class at his alma mater, Yale University. The speech embodied his most detailed explanation to date of a China policy that has put him in regular conflict with Congress.
"We want to advance the cause of freedom, not just snub nations that aren't yet wholly free," he said.
Many lawmakers have called for the revocation of the trading status of China -- known as "most favored nation" -- to punish it for its crackdown on political activity in 1989.
But Mr. Bush said that his policy was intended to promote the spread of democracy by remaining economically and politically engaged with the Chinese leadership, although he acknowledged that he still had strong concerns about China's human rights record and that he was following a path with "enormous potential for error and embarrassment."
Students and guests protesting Mr. Bush's policies on civil rights, abortion and other issues were thickly scattered throughout the audience on the Yale Quadrangle and periodically heckled the president as he spoke. His announcement on trade with China drew hisses and a few boos, as well as some applause.
Mr. Bush said he would inform Congress this week that China's trading privileges are to be continued for another year. The move had been expected since the president said two weeks ago that he wanted to renew China's favorable tariff treatment.
"Most favored nation" status guarantees the best available tariff rates and is not normally granted to Communist countries
considered to have violated human rights.
China's trading privileges expire July 3. Mr. Bush's action will take immediate effect unless both houses of Congress approve measures to reverse it or attach conditions to it. At least five measures that would do so are pending on Capitol Hill.
Keenly aware of this growing political opposition, Mr. Bush sought to present his policy on China as a measured, balanced mixture of engagement and sanctions.
[Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, denounced the move and promised a fight in Congress to block the extension, the Associated Press reported.
[Mr. Mitchell called Mr. Bush's proposed new sanctions "a joke" and said, "What is especially offensive . . . is that he seeks to clothe what is an immoral policy in moral terms. I'm sure the Chinese Communist leaders are right at this moment celebrating."
[Mr. Mitchell has introduced legislation to give China most-favored-nation status only if it makes improvements in human rights, AP reported.]