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The U.S. Senate made it final last week: With both Missouri senators voting aye, the Senate lopsidedly approved permanent normal trade relations with China.

The 83-15 vote, sending the PNTR bill to President Clinton, will bring an end to the divisive annual debates over U.S. trade policy toward the Communist country. The House of Representatives had passed PNTR by a much closer vote in May.

In the end, those arguing that the United States must do more to bring China's communist government into the international community prevailed over critics warning that Congress was putting profits over principle.

With a billion or so people, the vast majority of them living in abject poverty, China is the world's largest marketplace. It isn't just huge international companies such as Procter & Gamble or Anheuser-Busch that pushed for passage of PNTR. It is also a move favored strongly by organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation on behalf of America's agricultural producers. These producers know that one of every three rows of soybeans or corn we grow is destined for export.

There really was little choice: To continue to ignore a market as potentially gigantic as China is folly of the worst kind.

The agreement means China made major concessions in reducing tariffs and opening markets to our products and services. Agriculture exports alone could grow billions of dollars a year. And that could be followed by large increases in telecommunications, financial and service industries.

Human rights abuses -- including the persecution of Christians -- are real and often horrific. Recent history shows, however, that opening China to the outside world through freer international commerce will pressure the brutal communist government there toward more freedom. This is already happening in burgeoning seaport mega-cities such as Shanghai.

The Senate did the right thing, after vigorous debate, in approving PNTR with China.