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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Senate Passes US-China Trade Bill

On September 19, the US Senate approved, by 83 votes to 15, the establishment of Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) with China. Passage of the legislation (S. 4444) had long been held up by amendments linking the issue to China's record on human rights and non-proliferation. Although a joint Executive-Congressional Commission will be established to monitor human rights matters, no comparable means of reviewing non-proliferation policy was provided.

Passage of the legislation was cleared on September 13 when the Senate rejected, by 65 votes to 32, legislation co-sponsored by Senators Fred Thompson (Republican - Tennessee) and Robert Torricelli (Democrat - New Jersey) seeking to tie PNTR status to an annual review of Chinese weapons sales, with the President bound to impose sanctions against any Chinese entities identified as having violated non-proliferation export restrictions.

Comment & Reaction

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sun Yuxi, September 20: "It is our hope that China and the US will build on the resolution of the PNTR issue as a new starting point and make concerted efforts to achieve new progress in Sino-US economic cooperation and trade, and bilateral relations at large in the new century."

President Clinton, September 19: "[O]n the proliferation front, let me point out that we've made a lot of progress. China signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And they work[ed] with us to stop transfers that we thought were destructive on more than one occasion. Are there still problems? Yes, there are. I think that the incentive they will have is that more and more countries will want to become more and more involved with them as long as they feel that they're becoming more responsible members of the world community. ... And I also believe that they have shown in other ways that they would like to be partners in the international system and assume a leadership role that is constructive. All of this will be possible if there is a common course on non-proliferation. Furthermore, I think that all big countries will come to see that their own personal interests are more advanced by non-proliferation than by having various entities within the country make a quick buck through proliferation. It's not good politics, and it's certainly not good for national security."

Senator Max Baucus (Democrat - Montana), September 13: "All Senators agree that we must address China's record on proliferation, but it is equally clear that this permanent trade bill was never the right vehicle for that debate."

Senator Robert Byrd (Democrat - West Virginia), September 19: "The signal we send by granting PNTR now is a signal of weakness. It is a signal of greed. It is a signal of ambivalence on the issue of non-proliferation..."

Senator Phil Gramm (Republican - Texas), September 13: "[The Thompson-Torricelli legislation] would hurt America more than it would punish China."

Senator Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, September 11: "The world today is a very dangerous place, populated with tyrants and despots hostile to the United States. At every turn in the road we discover that communist China is supplying all of these countries with technology which ultimately can be used to kill Americans."

Senator James Inhofe (Republican - Oklahoma), September 12: "[I]t is predictable that the favours we grant to China will be exploited to enhance its military build-up..."

Senator John Kerry (Democrat - Massachusetts), September 12: "The fact is, on nuclear issues - separate from missile technology transfers - we have made rather remarkable progress in the last eight years, with a country that very recently accepted no norms of international proliferation behaviour."

Senator Jon Kyl (Republican - Arizona), September 12: "[The Thompson-Torricelli legislation] is meant to combat's China's irresponsible [weapons] trade... [China] has sold ballistic missile technology to Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Pakistan."

Senator Trent Lott (Republican - Mississippi), Senate Majority Leader, September 10: "It's a very serious matter. Chinese nuclear weapons proliferation is something that we have to be concerned about, and I'm convinced it continues to this day. We need a way to monitor it and there should be a way to propose sanctions."

Senator Arlen Specter (Republican - Pennsylvania), September 12: "[We should take] a hard look [at what China has been doing] with Taiwan, having missile tests off the coast of Taiwan, what they have done with human rights, what they gave done with proliferation..."

Senator Thompson, September 11: "[China is] engaging in activities that pose a mortal danger to the welfare of this country... It is inconceivable to me that we can address these trade-related issues and embrace our new trading partner...without addressing the fact that they're making this world, and particularly the United States, a more dangerous place to live."

Reports: US-China trade pact on track for final passage, Reuters, September 10; Senate spars over Chinese arms sales, trade, Reuters, September 11; Senators clash over Thompson amendment to China PNTR Bill, US State Department (Washington File), September 12; Senate KOs China trade attachment, Associated Press, September 13; US-China pact set for passage after sanctions fail, Reuters, September 13; PNTR supporters defeat proliferation, human rights amendments, US State Department (Washington File), September 13; Senate sweeps away proposed amendments to China PNTR bill, US State Department (Washington File), September 15; Senate approves China trade bill, Associated Press, September 19; Transcript - Clinton statement on China PNTR vote, US State Department (Washington File), September 19; China hails US vote as new beginning, Reuters, September 20; Remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sun Yuxi on the passage of the bill on China's PNTR by US Senate, Chinese Foreign Ministry, September 20.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.