WASHINGTON — In a major break with the Bush Administration, Democrat and Republican members of the House agreed Wednesday to pursue a sweeping package of economic sanctions against China and a resolution condemning the government's bloody crackdown on student protesters.
The proposed legislation, which is part of a two-year, $23-billion foreign aid authorization bill, is expected to receive strong bipartisan support today when it comes before the House for a vote. Before becoming law, the legislation would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by Bush.
In recent weeks, Bush has urged Congress not to go beyond his Administration's generally cautious response to the bloodshed in China.
However, House members indicated Wednesday they had little patience with this approach. Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), one of the leading architects of the proposed sanctions, said the time hascome for Congress to take a forceful stand.
"I think it (the proposed legislation) sends a very strong signal to the leaders and people of China that the United States will not continue business as usual in the absence of fundamental human rights improvement," said Solarz, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs.
More important, a congressional aide familiar with the China proposals said it will be difficult for Bush to oppose them because they were drafted by influential members of both parties. The House "is reflecting this very strong feeling now that something strong needs to be done," the aide said.
The bipartisan China amendment grew out of negotiations conducted this week by Solarz, Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and at least 10 other members of the committee.
Under the proposal, the U.S. government would suspend programs that develop new trade activity with China and guarantee private investment. The amendment would also suspend the export of police equipment, peaceful nuclear cooperation, new arms export licenses and the export of U.S. space satellites to China.
Bush could lift any of these sanctions by asserting that it was required by the "national interest," according to the agreement. He could also suspend the penalties by finding that China has taken significant steps to correct human rights abuses.
Sponsors speculated that Beijing officials would be particularly angered by a congressional determination that the government of the People's Republic of China had "ordered an unprovoked, brutal, and indiscriminate assault on thousands of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators and onlookers in Tian An Men Square."
The measure goes on to recommend that the President tell Chinese leaders that the resumption of normal military and diplomatic relations "will depend directly on the Chinese government's halting of executions of pro-democracy movement supporters."
In their amendment, House members also urge the President and secretary of state to convey America's "strong reservations" regarding the lack of guarantees of free elections and human rights in the agreement between China and the United Kingdom transferring Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997.
The congressional proposal calls on the United Nations to condemn the crackdown on student protesters and says the United States will offer asylum to any Chinese citizen who is threatened by reprisals for participation in the pro-democracy demonstrations.
Finally, the amendment says U.S. policy toward China should be "explicitly linked" with the human rights situation in Tibet, where the Chinese government has declared martial law.
In other actions, the House turned back an effort to temporarily withhold $34 million in military aid to El Salvador next year. House members also approved additional U.S. aid to Salvadoran police forces, brushing aside concerns that such assistance could aggravate human rights abuses in that country.
The vote was 233-185 against a proposal by liberal Democrats to temporarily suspend the $34 million in military aid for El Salvador.
Under a bipartisan agreement on Central America reached earlier this year, the U.S. would send $170 million in military aid to El Salvador in four installments over a two-year period. But Rep. Matthew F. McHugh (D-N.Y.) said Congress should withhold a segment of that aid until it is convinced that the newly elected, right-wing government of President Alfredo Cristiani has shown sufficient respect for human rights.
"At this point we don't know what the government there is going to do about ending the civil war and seeking human rights," he said, noting that Cristiani's Arena party has been linked with murders committed by right-wing death squads. "It would be foolish to give that government a blank check for two years."