WASHINGTON — Ignoring a veto warning, the Senate on Monday gave final congressional approval to a bill that would allow an estimated 30,000 Chinese students to remain in the United States indefinitely rather than risk punishment for pro-democracy views if they return home.
The Senate's action by voice vote followed a unanimous 403-0 vote by the House in favor of the legislation. The Bush Administration opposes the bill on grounds that its enactment would end educational exchanges with the Beijing regime.
"I think the President will veto this bill," said the Senate's No. 2 Republican, Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. If he rejects the measure after Congress departs later this week as planned for the rest of the year, there would be no chance for the Senate or House to attempt an override until Congress reconvenes next year.
Simpson said Bush responded quickly to protect Chinese students in this country after the Chinese army massacred unarmed protesters in Tian An Men Square and smashed pro-democracy demonstrations last June 3 and 4.
The President directed Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh to defer the departure of these students, many of whom had taken part in pro-democracy protests in the United States before and after the Tian An Men events, until it was safe for them to go home.
Visas issued to about 30,000 of the 40,000 Chinese students in this country on cultural or educational programs require them to return home for two years after their studies here end.
Despite the State Department's recommendation that Bush veto the legislation, the unanimous vote in the House might deter him. "Students are in great danger if they go back at this time," California Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai) said.
The Bush Administration has been reluctant to antagonize the Beijing regime any further, and the President has seemed eager to improve relations despite the global outcry against repression of the demonstrators last June.
However, the Administration accepted sanctions voted last week by the House and Senate that would ban sales of arms and police equipment and export of American-made satellites for launch in China. The sanctions would also suspend cooperation on nuclear issues, bar further liberalization of high-tech exports and suspend a U.S. investment insurance plan.
The sanctions, in addition to the cutoff of military sales and high-level official contacts ordered by Bush immediately after the Tian An Men crackdown, brought strong protests from China.
California Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), author of the original House measure, said she doubts that Bush will veto it because such action would indicate that he is "weak on China."