Consistency on Rights

AT first glance, President Bush's veto last week of legislation allowing Chinese students in the US a visa extension seem inexplicable. The students face possible persecution in China for their protests here before and after the Tiananman Square massacre. The problem is, it also seems inexplicable on second and third glance as well.

Mr. Bush says that Congress needn't ``micromanage'' foreign policy, and that through ``administrative discretion'' he will set up a policy that will have the same effect as Congress's bill. Presumably, Bush wants to salvage as best he can strained US-Chinese relations, and forestall Beijing's threat last month to end student exchanges altogether if the bill passed Congress.

But the president shouldn't do this on the backs of Chinese students. His discretionary policy is still vague. Will students have to apply for refugee status? That would further cut them off from home, and endanger their families. Will it be a case-by-case basis - where students must prove possible hardship upon return to China? That puts all the pressure on the student, where it doesn't belong, and makes a US bureaucrat the student's judge and jury.

Congress's bill to grant a blanket four-year extention to all 40,000 US-Chinese students is simple and clear. Further, it sends exactly the right message at a time when human rights, freedom, and democracy are in the ascendancy elsewhere in the world.

The US shouldn't have one standard of human rights when dealing with Moscow, say, and another when dealing with Beijing. Mr. Bush, however, feels China is a special case. But student arrests continue there, and the government's grip is not loosening, but tightening.

Next January, it is likely Congress will overturn the president's veto. That will suit us fine.

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