It is unfortunate that President Bush chose to invoke "morality" to justify his decision to seek renewal of normal trading relations with China. "Morality" was the least of his considerations. His concern was strictly geopolitical, as seen through the prism (critics call it his blind eye) of his own diplomatic experience in Beijing.
Despite China's human rights violations, its regressive Marxism, its irresponsible sales of missiles and nuclear equipment and its unfair trading practices, Mr. Bush determined it was in America's interest to continue so-called most-favored-nation trade policies with China. And he was right.
So the stage is set for another battle with Congress, just after the administration victory over free trade with Mexico. This time Mr. Bush will face not only the usual array of protectionists but an unusual combination of human rights liberals and Communist-hating conservatives. Watch for a veto.
Strictly in the context of Realpolitik, renewal of China trade policy ought to be easier this year than last. China made it possible for Mr. Bush to rally the United Nations against Saddam Hussein when it could have blocked the whole diplomatic enterprise in the Security Council. Instead, it abstained.
Yet this one cooperative action is going to be weighed on Capitol Hill against a long series of Chinese transgressions. If trade is to be judged on human rights terms, the present Beijing regime is a failure. On arms control and proliferation, it flunks again. But what if trade policy is to be judged by trade? Here, again, China is a miscreant. Its dumping of cheap goods and elaborate barriers to exports pushed the U.S. trade deficit up $10 billion last year and perhaps $15 billion this year.
The Bush administration, seeking to convey a tough image, is curtailing the sale of high-technology equipment to China. It has branded China a "Special 301 country" which could open the way to trade retaliation. It has tightened credit terms to China and, in the political realm, President Bush received Tibet's Dalai Lama.
Yet the underlying issue is whether it is wise to try to isolate a giant nation with great power that can continue to cause much mischief if it is not brought into the new world order. Actually, much Chinese economic reform has continued despite political regression. Mr. Bush has listened sympathetically to Hong Kong's shouts and Taiwan's whispers that normal U.S.-Chinese trade relations are vital to their economic growth.
Senate majority leader George Mitchell has promised an all-out fight to block MFN, calling administration countermeasures a "joke." He, too, has pushed the "morality" button. Before this battle is over, the administration will have to accept some congressionally imposed conditions to gain MFN renewal. Fair enough. Somehow the Chinese need to get the message that they have to change their ways. The administration cannot go through this wringer every year. But for now, President Bush's basic China policy should be approved.