WASHINGTON -- A former U.S. ambassador to China joined self-exiled Chinese dissidents yesterday in urging the Bush administration to make Sino-U.S. trade relations subject to improvements in democracy and human rights in the world's most populous nation.
The appeal by Winston Lord, envoy to Beijing from 1985 to 1989, and Chinese democracy advocates Fang Lizhi and Zhao Haiching before a congressional panel underscored the controversy prompted by President Bush's intention to renew China's "most-favored-nation" status.
Mr. Bush notified Congress formally yesterday of his intention. Congress can prevent extension of the policy by adopting a resolution to that effect within 90 days, but there is doubt that Congress would then be able to override a presidential veto.
Many members of the House and Senate have called on the administration to withdraw China's most-favored-nation status to protest that government's human rights abuses.
In Beijing yesterday, students at Beijing University distributed leaflets honoring the 1989 democracy movement and unfurled a banner reading, "We will never forget June 4," the Associated Press reported. On that date, the government sent troops to disperse demonstrators, and soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed civilians.
"This is clearly going to be one of the most important foreign policy issues to be confronted by the Congress this year," said Representative Stephen J. Solarz, D-N.Y., who led a one-day joint hearing by three Foreign Affairs subcommittees.
"I oppose the two extreme options of revocation and unconditional extension" of the most-favored-nation status, Mr. Lord said.
Revocation of the status, he said, would hurt the democracy movement in China, deal serious economic and psychological blows to Hong Kong as it nears return to Chinese rule in 1997, remove a key instrument of economic leverage with China and damage U.S. trade interests.
On the other hand, Mr. Lord continued, unconditional extension of the trade status would reinforce the Chinese government's belief that internal repression entails little international cost, undercut the position of moderates in and out of China, weaken the existing U.S. position on emigration and human rights and give up diplomatic leverage.
Roger W. Sullivan, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, warned in a written statement that duties on imports from China would rise from about 9 percent to 50 percent, costing consumers and retailers an extra $6 billion.
Mr. Sullivan urged the United States to increase trade with China. "Contact with the outside world through trade and investment . . . is a potent force for reform," he said.
Fang Lizhi, in exile in the United States after taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, accused the administration of adopting a double standard in its approaches to his country -- contrasting it with the U.S. refusal to grant most-favored-nation status to the Soviet Union.
Mr. Bush had a well-intentioned worry, Mr. Fang said, that if he downgraded the Chinese trade relationship, it would nudge that country back into isolation.
"But what worries me is that worries and good intentions that lack a principled standpoint can sink into a kind of futile wishful thinking," he said.