ONLY stock market speculators, lobbyists and people who love mischief will welcome the thought that 1993 will be a wilder year for Sino-US relations than recent years, because there is a new American president and a re-assessed geopolitical view of China. Concurrent with China-friendly President George Bush's departure is an influx of US Congress members who will eventually vote on extending China's Most Favoured Nation trade status and on whether to allow the mainland into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. There are 110 new members of Congress, 64 Democrats and 46 Republicans. The new House of Representatives will comprise 259 Democrats, 175 Republicans and one independent. According to John Kamm and Associates' MFN Newsletter, 23 of 24 incumbents removed from their seats consistently supported attaching conditions to renewal of China's MFN status. That might be a plus for Hongkong, but the new crop's voting intentions are unclear. Judging from reports of the acrimonious debate that accompanied the selection of Mr Mickey Kantor as US Trade Representative, trade has become an even more important - and complicated - domestic political issue than in the recent past. And as trade policy is increasingly entwined with US labour, government spending and environmental issues, to name just a few, ideas that make sense on the basis of trade and commerce only will become secondary to Washington politicking. Nothing unusual in that, except that arguments in favour of getting tough with China are gaining sway. American hardliners can say with some justification that threatening China's access to US markets has achieved success on important issues: copyright and intellectual property protection; access to the China market; and prison labour, to name a few. In the days of the Soviet strategic threat, China was seen as a relatively benign counterweight that could largely be left to its own devices domestically as long as it remained opposed to whatever schemes were being hatched in the Kremlin. But with Russia agreeing to sweeping arms reduction and begging for Western aid, a China taking a greater role in world affairs does not need to be coddled. In fact, with a US$15 billion trade surplus with the US and a grow-or-perish domestic economic push, China is increasingly vulnerable to the US. Hardliners may get enough support in Congress to engage in a little more brinkmanship than the Bush administration was willing to countenance. And China has several powerful opponents in the US Senate. For example, China hardliner Daniel Moynihan is heir apparent to chair the Senate's Finance Committee. He would manage all trade-related issues coming before the Senate, including China's MFN status and its application to join GATT. According to MFN Newsletter, Mr Moynihan is one of the most hawkish Senators about China. He opposes its accession to GATT and the 301 market access deal, and he introduced a Resolution of Disapproval of China's trade privileges in 1990 and led criticism of the country's prison labour exports. If Mr Moynihan was willing to push a resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country whose head of state was the Dalai Lama, imagine the interest he would take in Governor Chris Patten's proposals for Hongkong if they are passed by Legco.