Lawmakers target China's trade status

Thursday, April 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - Some lawmakers urged caution Thursday over moves in the House to wipe out China's new normal trade status with the United States as a way to punish China for its refusal to free 24 crew members of a U.S. spy plane damaged in a collision with a Chinese jet fighter.

``I think that's very premature and I think it could be counterproductive,'' said Sen. Pat Roberts, a Senate Intelligence Committee member who strongly supported last year's law granting China permanent normal trade relations.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said Thursday, ``I didn't totally agree with the policy on China PNTR, but we made a decision as a country. If we're asking them to live up to their obligations ... we ought to live up to ours.''

Lawmakers rejected either a violent confrontation or a U.S. apology for the incident - Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott dismissed the idea of an apology as ``absolutely ludicrous.''

But China's tourism industry could suffer a hit, at least in terms of congressional travel plans.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles said he would postpone his planned trip to China with Oklahoma business and government leaders unless the situation was resolved, saying, ``If the crew is not released, we will not go.''

Others in Congress may back out of a separate China trip scheduled to start Saturday. And the trade status was up for grabs.

Rep. Duncan Hunter , who opposed granting China permanent normal trade relations last year, introduced a bill Wednesday to revoke it.

``A favored trading partner with our country would follow proper protocol and not continue to hold our service men and women, along with our equipment, after being asked for their return,'' said Hunter.

Chinese Ambassador Yang Jiechi said trade sanctions would hurt both countries, telling PBS television's ``Newshour with Jim Lehrer'': ``Trade relations serve mutual interests. It's not a one-way street.''

Most of the Hunter bill's two dozen co-sponsors are Republican, and most voted last year against the law to end Congress' annual review of whether to extend China's normal trade status and to make it permanent instead.