Clinton urged to back HK reforms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 1993, 12:00am

A LEADING American senator who played a crucial role in renewing China's trade benefits has urged President-elect Mr Bill Clinton to take a strong stand in support of Hongkong democracy.

Senator Max Baucus told a gathering of American businessmen last night that it was important for the United States to shore up Hongkong's confidence by demonstrating US commitment to the territory's future stability.

''Governor Chris Patten and the people of Hongkong are on the front line. They deserve our strong support,'' Mr Baucus said.

But he warned it would be a mistake for the new Clinton administration to either cancel China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits or to attach human rights and other conditions to its renewal.

Mr Baucus gave a list of policy recommendations that he urged Mr Clinton to adopt. These include: Issuing a strong statement in support of democracy in Hongkong.

Renewing the call for a US-China commission to discuss human rights.

Expanding US radio broadcasts to promote democracy in China.

Making sure that recent agreements on fair trade and a ban on prison labour exports to the US are strictly observed.

Making sure that China's markets are open before it is allowed to enter GATT - the world body that promotes liberalised trade, and Making sure that China complies with international arms control treaties.

Mr Baucus said he had discussed his proposals with the Clinton administration and received a good response.

He also said it was ''highly possible'' that Congress would reconsider its position on an MFN bill if Mr Clinton took a strong stance against China.

Mr Baucus, a Democrat, has for two years led a small coalition of senators who crossed party lines to provide the extra votes outgoing president Mr George Bush needed to renew China's MFN status.

His latest statement indicates that he will continue to support unconditional trade benefits for China although this may prove more difficult under a new president committed to a tougher policy on Beijing.

Mr Baucus called on Mr Clinton to make clear in an early statement that China's record on human rights, trade, and arms control would be taken into account when its MFN status comes up for renewal this summer.

He said Mr Clinton should also clarify at the same time that he will only use the withdrawal of MFN as a last resort.

Since his November election victory Mr Clinton has remained vague about how he will deal with Beijing although he has softened his earlier sharp criticism of China's hardline leaders.

Mr Baucus told the Business Coalition for US-China trade that while China must be made to accept world standards on human rights and trade, the new president should make clear this can be done with tools other than the threat of MFN conditions or withdrawal.

Stressing that the world ''cannot afford to isolate China'', Mr Baucus said removing Beijing's MFN would backfire on the US, bringing Chinese retaliation that would lead to American job losses and instability in Hongkong.