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House Backs Trade Privileges for China, Rejecting Challenge

By John E. Yang
The Washington Post

The House upheld President Clinton's decision to renew China's trade privileges Tuesday, turning back efforts by Christian conservatives and liberal Democrats to punish Beijing for its human rights record, trade practices and weapons sales.

After more than three hours' debate, the effort to overturn the president's action was defeated 259 to 173 on a roll call vote. Although it was the largest number of House members opposing China's most-favored-nation trading status since 1990 - the year after Beijing's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square - it still fell well short of passing.

The issue took on added significance this year because of concerns about whether Beijing will keep its pledge to preserve economic and political freedoms in Hong Kong after it takes control of the colony next week, and because of reports that Chinese officials may have been trying to buy political influence in Washington through illegal campaign contributions. In addition, Christian conservatives, led by Gary Bauer and his Family Research Council, worked against renewing China's trade status for the first time, complaining about what they called Beijing's persecution of Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders.

As they have in past years, major corporations such as Boeing Corp. mounted a substantial lobbying campaign in many congressional districts intended to remind voters of the supposed economic benefits of trading with China.

In the end, 79 Republicans, 93 Democrats and one independent voted to overturn the president's decision.

Among the 147 Republicans who voted to back the president were House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who, by tradition, rarely votes, Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas, Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas and House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Tuesday's vote was not the end of this year's congressional debate on U.S. relations with Beijing. Lawmakers have introduced several measures intended to toughen American policy toward China and promote democracy. Among the steps under consideration would be increases in Radio Free Asia broadcasts, more funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and possible restrictions on products made by companies controlled by the Chinese army.