With Friends Like These. . .

June 26, 1994

What possesses the Democratic leaders in Congress? Why do they want to embarrass their own president by trying to resurrect linkage between China's human rights practices and normal trade relations, a skewed policy we thought had been buried once and for all a month ago? How can they justify proposing to block the import of goods produced by the industrial network of the People's Liberation Army, the chief supplier of North Korea's weaponry, when President Clinton needs China's cooperation in dealing with the nuclear-minded regime of Kim Il Sung?

Even if it is granted that Sen. George Mitchell and Rep. Richard Gephardt feel a strong moral commitment to China's beleaguered dissidents, they take on certain responsibilities when they assume leadership posts. One is to weigh their personal causes against a presidential agenda already overloaded with health care and welfare reform as well as ratification of sweeping changes in world trade rules. Another is to avoid political showboating of lost causes when Congress has trouble enough getting its affairs in order.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate international trade subcommittee, was understating the case when he called the Mitchell-Gephardt move a "serious mistake." Better than that, it is an inexcusable action based, in part, on very dubious analysis.

Take, for example, Mr. Gephardt's assertion that those who herald the jobs created by $8 billion in U.S. exports to China "ignore the more than half a million jobs we have lost due to Chinese imports [of $31 billion]." What the ever-protectionist House leader ignores is that goods coming from China -- mostly toys and apparel -- would not be shifted to U.S. manufacturers but to such other low-tech countries as the Philippines and Mexico.

Fortunately, the Mitchell-Gephardt ploy, in Senator Baucus's words, is "foredoomed to failure." He estimates he could rustle up 55 to 60 votes to uphold Mr. Clinton's tough-minded decision to encourage Sino-American trade as a means of freeing the Chinese economy (and eventually its political system). Even more, the Clinton decision is based on the realistic assessment that the cooperation of a China armed with nuclear weapons and veto in the U.N. Security Council is vital not only for long-term strategic reasons but for dealing with the very dangerous nuclear dispute with North Korea. The president ill-deserves such back-stabbing from his supposed chief allies on Capitol Hill.

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