Opponents often cite China's harsh human-rights policyyet some victims of that policy hope a trade normalization bill before Congress passes, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.
The wife of one of China's most famous dissidents wants the trade bill and Chinas ultimate entry into the World Trade Organization, because she believes it will force China open to more than just western goods.
Jiang Quisheng was arrested last year for suggesting that Chinese remember the Tiananmen Square massacre by lighting a candle inside their homes.
His wife tells CBS News through a translator, "I favor itentering the WTO should help speed up an improvement in the human rights situation in China."
If Mrs. Jiang is rightif more trade brings more freedommaybe she will be reunited with her husband. To have such hope is what sustains her.
However, in the past year China has cracked down on democracy advocates and those trying to practice religious freedoma clear sign that the prospect of world trade is not easing the attitudes of hardliners who will brook no dissent.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, an opponent of normalizing trade with China, says, "How could they be aggravating the situation in terms of human beings in their own country when they are going through a negotiation on trade policy? It just shows you that China is not willing to play by the rules."
Dissidents like Mr. Jiang often made headlines when Congress voted each year on trade with China and could debate human rights.
If passed, the new permanent normal trade bill will end the annual vote, and some think that dissidents may be forgotten.
Congress votes on the trade bill next week. Mr. Clinton plans a televised speech on it Sunday night.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appeared at the White House with President Clinton on Thursday, calling on Congress to pass the bill.
The president said when Greenspan talks, the world listensand he hopes Congress was listening.
So do American exporters. They claim that if Congress kills the China trade bill, only the United States will be left out of a lucrative market.
China now imports $14 billion of American goods a year, but sells $60 billion dollars more to America than it buys. With the more open trade and lower tariffs the Permanent Normal Trade Relations Act (PNTR) would allow, that deficit could shrink.
According to the White House, average agricultural tariffs would decrease from 31 percent to 14 percent by 2004, and average industrial tariffs from 1997 levels of 24.6 percent to 9.5 percent in 2005.
That would open a whole new market for American cars and parts built in America, unless Congress turns down the trade deal.
Many opponents are worried that the projected benefits of the trade bill are overstated, and that Americans could lose jobto Chinese who will work cheaper.
The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, predicted in a recent report that the U.S. trade deficit with China will increase by at least 80 percent between 1999 and 2010, which it claims will result "in the elimination of 872,091 jobs during the next decade, even if U.S. exports to China grow more rapidly than imports from that country."
However, if Congress does not grant permanent normal trade relations, that does not stop China's entry into the WTO.
China could still join the trade group, and other countries could enjoy the benefits of lower tariffs and more sales. Only American companies would be shut out, meaning less work for American workers.
"Instead of General Motors or Ford or anybody else out of North America, it can quite easily be Audi or Honda or Toyota," said Dennis Dougherty of GM-China.