The Senate sustained President Bush's veto of a bill that would have imposed human rights and other conditions on a renewal of China's normal trade status with the United States.
Wednesday's 60-38 vote was a high point in Senate opposition to Bush's China policies but fell six votes short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto. (Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch voted with the president.)The Senate action pushed the administration's record on sustained vetoes to 26-0. Last week, the House had voted 357-61 to override Bush's veto.
Failure to override means China's most-favored-nation trade status, which confers the lowest available U.S. tariffs on its imports, will almost certainly be renewed when it expires in July.
The compromise bill would have required "substantial progress" by China in the areas of human rights, trade and weapons proliferation before normal trade status could be renewed.
But Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said that punishing China would not achieve the intended effects of freeing political prisoners or helping trade.
"It will hit home in every wallet and pocketbook in this country," Dole said. "We import billions of dollars of low-cost, good-quality products from China which we simply can't get anywhere else at anywhere near the price."
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, Bush's staunchest opponent on China policy, accused the president of blindly adhering to a policy of engagement with Beijing left over from the days when the United States needed to use China as a counterbalance to the other communist superpower, the Soviet Union.
"The threats that face the world today do not emanate from a strong Soviet Union," Mitchell said. "Instead they can be traced in part to the actions of regimes like China," which sells weaponry to unstable countries and has a trade surplus with the United States topped only by Japan.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wu Jianmin said China was not concerned that the Senate vote was so close. "We have taken note of the result of the voting by the Senate," he said.