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It would be easy to dismiss the new trade deal between the United States and China as just a crass sellout on the part of a Clinton administration that has put money ahead of principle.

After all, the main emphasis has been on the $5 billion worth of trade deals that U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown concluded in just three days. In return, Beijing merely promised to resume the talks with Washington on human rights that the Chinese suspended a half year ago. And unwritten promises are easier to break than business contracts.A more generous assessment would be that the new arrangement represents the triumph of American idealism over common sense.

It's easy to believe the White House's promise that it remains concerned about human rights in China and will continue to press for improvements. The Oval Office could do no less without violating core principles of both main U.S. political parties and alienating much of the Clinton administration's constituency.

The trouble is that Beijing's deeds speak louder than its promises of resumed human rights talks. The Chinese government has continued to round up peaceful dissidents, including some it previously released. It has broken off talks with the Voice of America over jamming of its broadcasts and halted discussions with the Red Cross about humanitarian visits to prisons. It also has toughened its terms for talking to Washington about nuclear nonproliferation.

All things considered, perhaps the most realistic assessment of the new trade arrangement is that it's the best Washington can expect for now.

After all, it's hard even for Washington to muscle a country as big and strong as China, with the world's fastest-growing economy and biggest single consumer market. If Americans don't tap that market, one or more of our competitors will.

Besides, with more U.S. trade should come more American factories inside China. More foreign factories should eventually mean more outside influence on the Chinese. Likewise, more trade should mean more prosperity for China and a bigger middle class that could exercise growing influence in pressing for political change.

Americans can and should do more business with China without relenting on U.S. efforts to get Chinese leaders to treat their own people better. The rest of the world can help by never letting Beijing forget the continuing revulsion good people everywhere feel over the needlessly bloody crackdown against peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and over the continuing manifestations of that paranoia.