China has warned of retaliation if Washington enacts legislation that would cut sharply its textile exports to the United States, the leader of a U.S. congressional delegation said today.
Rep. Sam M. Gibbons (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said Chinese officials "let us know in no uncertain terms" that they would cut off other types of trade if the United States cut Chinese exports under the proposed Jenkins bill.
The Florida Democrat said that the Chinese did not give any details as to how they would retaliate. But, he added, "They could cut off our access to this country."
According to American statistics, the Chinese exported $1.29 billion worth of textiles and garments to the United States in 1984. Total two-way trade came to $6.1 billion, making the United States China's second-largest trading partner, trailing only Japan.
Gibbons said that one exception to a Chinese cutoff of imports from the United States might be American high technology.
"Obviously they want American high-technology goods and won't cut that off unless they can find it elsewhere," the congressman said at a press conference here after 2 1/2 days of talks with Chinese officials.
Despite what the Chinese are now calling a "crisis" over the textile issue, Gibbons said that his nine-member delegation had made "some progress" in its talks here. Delegation members met with Chinese Vice Premier Tian Jiyun as well as with several high-ranking trade officials during their stay.
"Retaliation is a very nefarious thing . . . ," Gibbons said, referring to the textile dispute. "Innocent people get hurt."
Gibbons said that a strong majority of House members -- more than 290 -- had either endorsed the bill introduced by Rep. Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.) or joined as cosponsors of the proposed legislation, and that a majority in the Senate had endorsed it as well.
Rep. Carroll A. Campbell Jr., a South Carolina Republican who is a leading sponsor of the Jenkins bill, told reporters that China was only a "small part" of the textile-imports problem for the United States and that Congress could reconsider parts of the Jenkins bill dealing with specific countries.
"We are not closed-minded," Campbell said, "but we are closed-minded on the question of whether we should do something or not."
Campbell said that every $1 billion of textile imports into the United States costs American workers 25,000 jobs.
Gibbons said that the Jenkins bill, in its present form, would cut Chinese textile exports to the United States by more than 55 percent and cost the Chinese about $500 million a year in foreign-exchange earnings.
Campbell said the Chinese recently had issued a tariff list imposing from 40 to 200 percent duties on more than a dozen imports into China.
"They're looking out for their people, and we're looking out for ours," he said.
The warning that the Chinese delivered to the congressional delegation was not the first they have issued. In its July 22 issue, the official Peking Review said the proposed Jenkins legislation has "sparked a crisis in Sino-U.S. trade relations."
The Peking Review commentary, written by the magazine's economics editor, said the bill would violate the Sino-U.S. textile agreement and multifiber arrangement.
"China's textile industry produces its most important export products," the Peking Review commentary said. "As such, the impact on China's economy and its foreign-exchange earnings resulting from a sharp drop would inevitably have a negative impact on China's importations from the United States."