The 260-170 vote in favor of President Clinton's decision to ensure China another year of normal trade relations came at a low-point in U.S.-China relations. The administration said the vote was crucial to keep relations from deteriorating further.
Revoking normal trade, the administration said in a statement, would Â"signficantly damage America's relationship with a fifth of the world's population.Â"
That relationship Â"is very fragile now,Â" said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas. Using trade to punish China Â"risks far greater consequences for America, for China and for the entire world.Â"
During debates on the House floor, both Democrats and Republicans took the opportunity to lash out at China.
Dan Burton, R-Ind., asked why the U.S. should reward China for spying. He said it's time to show some backbone and stop letting China walk all over America.
Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. argued that American consumers should not be financing the oppressive regime in China, which he said is exactly what an extension of normal trade status would mean.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said preferential trade status should not be granted to a despotic regime or to a regime engaged in systematic human rights abuses against its own people.
Rohrabacher condemned ChinaÂ's recent arrests of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, saying a new generation of victims are being rounded up and brutalized, disappearing into the Chinese version of Nazi prison camps and Soviet gulags.
Among the thorns in U.S.-China relations are a large Chinese trade surplus, aggravated by alleged unfair trading practices, allegations of illegal Chinese political contributions in the 1996 presidential campaign and suspicions that China stole U.S. nuclear secrets.
China's weapons proliferation policies and its threats against Taiwan also anger many lawmakers.
The Chinese, in turn, remain bitter over the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which some in the Chinese leadership see as part of a U.S. effort to hamstring China's political and military influence.