THE leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, Mr George Mitchell, has made it clear that he believes conditions should still be attached to the renewal of China's trade benefits despite a recent softening of President-elect Bill Clinton's position towards Beijing.
Speaking on NBC television's Meet the Press, Mr Mitchell disagreed with recent statement by Mr Clinton that China had made improvements in past months in the areas of human rights, trade and arms control.
''I don't think the evidence justifies that,'' Mr Mitchell said.
He insisted that there has been ''very little'' improvement in Chinese behaviour in the past six months.
''Certainly not sufficient to justify the unconditional continuation of Most Favoured Nation trading status,'' Mr Mitchell said.
He said Congress would ''present the case'' to Mr Clinton and made clear that he would review carefully the evidence that led to Mr Clinton concluding that China had made progress recently.
As the Democratic leader of the Senate, Mr Mitchell played the central role in the congressional battle with President George Bush over the renewal of China's MFN benefits.
He personally introduced the MFN Bill in the Senate attaching conditions to China's trade status.
But his efforts repeatedly led to failure in close fights with Mr Bush, who successfully vetoed all the MFN bills.
Mr Mitchell's latest position indicates that despite a new Democrat president in the White House he intends to press ahead with imposing conditions on China's MFN status.
The new president has said he does not want to isolate China or impose MFN conditions if Beijing moderates its behaviour.
But Mr Mitchell attacked China's huge US$15 billion trade surplus with the US and accused Beijing of cheating on its promise not sell dangerous missiles of mass destruction.