WASHINGTON — Despite expressions of concern from the Bush Administration, the House voted unanimously Thursday for a tough package of economic sanctions against China and warned Beijing officials that "the whole world is watching" its suppression of human rights.
"Today we send a clear, undivided message to the leaders of China," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. "If you want to rejoin the community of nations, stop the killing now. Don't try to rewrite history."
Gephardt commended President Bush for speaking out on the Chinese crackdown but added: "Someone in this government has to speak on behalf of the American people and take a more forceful stand than the President has been willing to take. I believe these amendments can bring change."
Harsh Words for Beijing
In their vote, House members endorsed the economic sanctions that Bush already has proposed. But they also called for tougher penalties and couched their criticism of Chinese leaders in unusually harsh language. The bill, for example, said that China's leaders "ordered an unprovoked, brutal and indiscriminate assault on thousands of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators and onlookers in Tian An Men Square."
The House amendment would suspend programs that guarantee private investment and encourage new trade activity with China. It also would halt peaceful nuclear cooperation as well as the export of police equipment, new arms export licenses and U.S. space satellites to China.
The Administration previously had suspended military exchanges and high-level diplomatic contacts with the Chinese, halted arms sales to China and said it would work to block new loans to China by international lending bodies such as the World Bank.
Bush Could Lift Curbs
If the new sanctions become law, Bush could lift any of them by asserting that such action is required in the "national interest." He also could suspend them by finding that China had taken significant steps to correct human rights abuses.
The House bill also voiced harsh criticism of Chinese officials for executing protesters and demanded that China improve its respect for human rights in Tibet, where it has imposed martial law.
The 418-0 vote came as the House completed action on a two-year, $23-billion foreign aid bill, which must be approved by the Senate and signed by Bush before it becomes law.
Among amendments in the bill that affect U.S. foreign policy, the House endorsed a bipartisan measure barring the U.S. government from providing military aid to any nation that, by agreement, furnishes aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.
And the House voted in favor of $1 billion in U.S. aid for an international effort to help the Philippines, rejecting a move to cut the amount by 60%. The overall foreign aid bill was approved, 314 to 101.
Thursday's vote put the House on a collision course with the Bush Administration, which has expressed concern over the proposed sanctions against China. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking at a White House briefing, said that Bush, not Congress, should determine America's response to the volatile situation in China.
"No elected official in the United States of America understands China better than the President of the United States," Baker said. "The President has been on the right track with regard to his measured response."
Baker also said that the Administration does not believe an emotional response will sway Chinese leaders, and he cautioned Congress against acting in the heat of the moment.
"We will not use inflammatory rhetoric," he said. "If people want us to use inflammatory rhetoric, that's fine. They're entitled to have that desire. But we do not intend to do that."
Although Baker refused to say whether Bush would veto the legislation, he said that the Administration disagrees strongly with several provisions. In particular, he quarreled with language that would tie the lifting of U.S. sanctions to a correction of human rights abuses.
"The principle of human rights . . . has to be a major foundation principle for our foreign policy," Baker said. "But it is not the only principle which determines our foreign policy. And it cannot be the sole principle which determines the . . . degree of the response of the United States in a situation such as this."
Earlier in the week, Baker and other Administration officials tried to dissuade House members from approving tougher sanctions against China. At first, they appeared to have persuaded leading Republicans to back the President.
A Bipartisan Response
But as debate began on the foreign aid bill, GOP conservatives joined with Democrats in fashioning a bipartisan response to the situation in China. In doing so, they demonstrated their impatience with Bush's low-key posture.