It is the right thing to do, Lott tells peers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 12:00am

He has been famously ambivalent for months, but yesterday he had the last word as the United States Senate sought to make history by voting for a sweeping new economic relationship with China. Senator Trent Lott, leader of the Republicans who control the body, said simply as he urged his peers to vote: 'It is the right thing to do.'

Feared as a back room deal-maker rather than a politician of fierce principles, Senator Lott has caused months of anguish for the extensive pro-trade lobby as he appeared to play all sides off against each other - mostly behind the scenes.

The most powerful figure in the Senate, Senator Lott never spoke passionately for the concept of PNTR with China. Equally, you could never pin down his distaste for it either.

The Republicans may be traditionally the party of corporate America and free trade, yet Senator Lott has at times garnered a reputation as a protectionist, often looking out for the interests of hard-up industries in his home state of Tennessee.

The contrast came to a head last week. Just as he pledged to get things moving as time appeared to be fast running out for action this year, there he was quietly backing an amendment on new weapons trade sanctions that could have scuppered the bill this year. It failed.

Yesterday, though, he spoke of a bold new relationship - with a few conditions. 'It is great for America . . . but it will take a lot of vigilance,' he said. 'There are legitimate concerns out there.'

Some observers are expecting a tough time ahead for China. Should Senator Lott stay in power after the election, he can be expected to keep one ear at least closely tuned to their fears.