China Trade Debate

May 24, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: After months of intense lobbying on Capitol Hill, multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, endorsements from influential political figures, and dozens of rallies for and against granting permanent normal trade relations to China, the time finally had come for members of Congress to decide.

REP. BILL ARCHER, Chairman, Ways & Means Committee: This vote will be the most important vote that we cast in our congressional careers.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the debate proceeded, some members said they would vote to normalize trade with China because of the economic impact it would have on their home districts.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT, (D) Texas: I just believe that trade will mean more good, high-wage technology jobs not only for Central Texas but for all of America.

REP. THOMAS EWING, (R) Illinois: Corn and soybeans are the heart of the district I represent in Illinois. And this legislation is very important to our nation’s struggling agricultural economy.

REP. JAY INSLEE, (D) Washington: Aerospace Machinists Local 751, recommending 44,000 aerospace workers in the Puget Sound area endorsed this treaty, and they did this for this reason: They recognize the real contest here is this: Who will have the trade benefits of this agreement, the workers in Telus, France, or the workers in Seattle, Washington?

KWAME HOLMAN: But Pennsylvania Democrat Ron Kink was not predicting an economic benefit to his district.

REP. RON KLINK (D) Pennsylvania: We found out in my home state of Pennsylvania just last month we’ve lost 22,000 jobs to Mexico after the passage of NAFTA. And I would ask those who are in support of PNTR: What are they willing to sacrifice on the altar of free trade?

KWAME HOLMAN: Virginia Republican Tom Davis countered Klink’s logic.

REP. TOM DAVIS, (R) Virginia: You know, for America, this agreement is a one-way street. Our markets are already open to the Chinese. If there’s going to be job loss, we’ve seen it in terms of some of these low-wage markets that have already moved to the Pacific Rim and to China and these other areas.

KWAME HOLMAN: But California Republican Dana Rohrbacher argued proponents of the China trade bill weren’t being honest in their arguments.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R) California: What they are talking about when they talk about this commercial tie with China is not the sale of commercial items but the transfer of factories and technology, this transfer to Communist China of American factories. Once there, our business leaders who set up these factories in China end up in partnership, if not controlled by, the People’s Liberation Army. We are setting the People’s Liberation Army up in business with normal trade relations, and this makes it permanent normal trade relations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Members argued back and forth, and beyond jobs and trade. Opponents insisted the more important issue was the matter of ongoing human rights abuses in China.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) Georgia: Where is the freedom of speech? Where is the freedom of assembly? Where is the freedom to organize? Where is the freedom to protest? Where is the freedom to pray? It is not in China.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) Ohio: This Congress must insist that we stand up for America’s dearest and most cherished values for freedom, for justice. That’s the American way. And if we are going to make this world a better place, we have to stand for it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Proponents of China trade believed they had an answer for that as well.

REP. ROBERT MATSUI, (D) California: Those that live in China, the Chinese democracy movement, they want us to pass this because they want to engage the United States. They think if they gain economic power, they will be able to oppose the central government of China.

REP. RICHARD ARMEY, Majority Leader: And when we open the China market, citizens from all over China will be carrying devices like this, a simple little pocket PC and with that PC, they can connect to the Internet, every bit of information about culture, religion, markets, economics and freedom and dignity available on this earth. And they cannot be stopped.

KWAME HOLMAN: The concern raised by Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, however, wasn’t about normalizing trade with China. It was the fact the word permanent is in the bill.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: The issue is: Will we take away the review, the leverage? Advocates of doing this say that the annual review is meaningless. If it’s so meaningless, why does the Chinese government insist, as a price of giving us access to their market, that we take it away? I’ll tell you why they ask for it so vociferously — because they don’t want the pressure, they don’t want the annual debate on this floor. They don’t want the light of the world to come in and see how they’re performing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Illinois Republican Phil Crane, who co-wrote the trade bill, responded.

REP. PHIL CRANE, (R) Illinois: If we were to continue the annual renewal of normal trade relations with China, 134 countries on the face of this earth will have access to that huge market, the biggest market on the face of this earth, they will have accessed that market and we will be the only country that has not accessed that market.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the debate drew to a close, there was a show of appreciation by the full house for those members who led the fight for and against the China trade bill. Bonior of Michigan opposed it steadfastly. Rangel of New York broke with the Democratic leadership and supported it. And Speaker Hastert delivered the Republican vote and oversaw a process that was remarkably free of partisanship. And once all the votes had been cast, permanent normal trade relations with China was approved by a comfortable margin. It now goes to the Senate, where approval is considered a formality.