US lawmakers pledge open minds on trade benefits under Clinton

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 February, 1993, 12:00am

AMERICAN lawmakers have assured Trade Development Council chairman Victor Fung they will keep an open mind on the controversial issue of trade benefits for China while President Bill Clinton hammers out a new Beijing policy.

This wait-and-see position by some key legislators has come amid fears that Congress - with the backing of a supportive president - may succeed in passing legislation that slaps human rights and other conditions on the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status.

Mr Fung said after a full day of meetings with lawmakers involved in the MFN issue that most were willing to take a fresh look at the controversy now that the US political landscape had changed with the electoral defeat of Mr George Bush.

Both congressman Gary Ackerman, the new chairman of the Asia-Pacific Affairs sub-committee of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bennett Johnston said they were keen to lead export missions to Hongkong.

''The willingness to be open-minded surprised me,'' said Mr Fung, who is in Washington on a lobbying mission in support of unconditional renewal of China's MFN status.

''They were all prepared to listen,'' he added.

He met with a wide range of legislators - both Democrats and Republicans - who hold sharply different views on the wisdom of using MFN conditions to force reforms on China.

''Even the ones we had expected to take a hard line had expressed a new openness,'' said Mr Fung.

He said the lawmakers he met had indicated that many in Congress would like to see Mr Clinton take the lead in formulating a China policy, thereby avoiding the confrontation between the legislature and the White House over China that marked the Bush presidency.

Mr Clinton, who supported imposing MFN conditions on China during the election campaign, has since toned down his sharp attacks on Beijing and has remained vague on what policy he will adopt towards China.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher told senators last month that the new administration would take some time devising its China policy, which would include a position on MFN.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who spearheaded the move to impose trade conditions on China, has meanwhile served notice that she intends to reintroduce her MFN Bill to pressure Mr Clinton to live up to his campaign promise of a tougher China policy.

Mr Fung said while the legislators he met with were mindful of the trade benefits China's huge markets can offer, they were nevertheless insistent that Beijing had to clean up its human rights record.

He said the legislators he met had indicated it was still too early to say how the MFN issue would play out this year.

Among the lawmakers Mr Fung met were Congressman Sam Gibbons, who chairs the sub-committee dealing with the MFN issue, and Mr Ackerman, the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs sub-committee on Asia.

Meanwhile the head of the US-China Business Council, Mr Donald Anderson, has warned that China's huge trade surplus with the US will remain a disturbing factor in relations between the two countries.

Mr Anderson, a former US Consul-General in Hongkong, said in a speech sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies that Sino-US trade relations remained unstable despite two recent trade agreements signed by the two countries.

He said the US trade deficit with China, projected to reach US$18 billion, was unlikely to be narrowed in the near future.