Critics Look to Punish China

Article excerpt

Revelations that China stole U.S. nuclear secrets have energized congressional critics of the Clinton administration's engagement policy, who are considering new punitive trade measures targeting China.

Lawmakers of both parties are working with increased vigor to deny favorable trading access for China to U.S. markets and to block its admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) - China's top international economic goal. Both moves could raise the costs of China's goods sold in the United States.

"It is simply unthinkable that we reward China with WTO when it is clear that they have an aggressive weapons modernization program," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican. "The spy scandal is the biggest breach of American security since the Rosenbergs."

Reports that China used high-tech data stolen from U.S. Energy Department labs in the 1980s to boost its nuclear weapons program have shaken U.S.-Chinese ties on a broad scale. Critics say the Clinton administration was slow to recognize and repair the security breach in the mid-1990s - in large part because of its desire to maintain good relations with Beijing.

The suspected spy, Taiwanese-born scientist Wen Ho Lee, has been questioned by the FBI and fired from his job at the Los Alamos, N.M., laboratory. He has not been charged so far with any crime.

Mr. Hutchinson has drafted a bill that would require Congress to approve of China's admission to the WTO, an idea that is gathering support. He hopes to bring it up before Congress leaves for its Easter break at the end of this month.

Democratic House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt is working with Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, on a similar measure on the House side.

Meanwhile, outside groups critical of China have also turned up the heat.

Gary Bauer, GOP presidential candidate and former head of the Family Research Council, said China has adopted an increasingly aggressive foreign policy that is reminiscent of the Cold War. He, too, would block China's WTO application and also deny Chinese goods the favorable U.S. tariff rates enjoyed by all WTO members.

"It seems to me that this is imperative if we are going to send the Chinese a signal that we are not going to be pushed around," he said. "They think we'll swallow almost anything if we see monetary gain in it."

Among the critics' complaints about China: its $57 billion annual trade surplus with the United States; its closed markets to many U.S. goods and services; its reported sales of nuclear and missile technology to rogue states; its aggressive posture toward Taiwan; its repeated crackdowns on political dissidents; and its expansionist aims in the strategic South China Sea.

But there remains substantial support in the GOP-controlled Congress for continued diplomatic and commercial engagement with China - a growing military and economic powerhouse in East Asia and potentially one of the biggest export markets for major U.S. manufacturers.

"I've always been for engagement," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. …