As the world's 13th-largest trader, Taiwan has a logical place in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the 100-nation agency overseeing global trade.

In fact, Taiwan - America's sixth-largest trading partner - was a founding member of GATT in 1947 but was forced out in 1971 when mainland China replaced Taiwan in the United Nations.So it's not surprising that U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills and the major congressional committees on trade and foreign affairs support Taiwan's bid to join.

But others in the administration seem to be putting international politics ahead of principle.

Consider, in particular, the awkward stance of Secretary of State James Baker. Though he concedes that Taiwan's membership may be "desirable in principle," Baker worries about the reaction of mainland China, which still clings to the fiction that Taiwan is not a separate country. The masters of Tiananmen Square would be miffed if Washington backed the island's membership in GATT.

The Chinese have been helpful to Washington in the Persian Gulf crisis and also in attempts to bring peace to Cambodia. Baker doesn't want to offend them now.

But those regional problems are unrelated to trade - an arena where the Bush administration has already catered to Beijing. It agreed last spring to extend trade concessions to China for another year.

The State Department should quit pussyfooting and do the right thing at GATT. Who knows - China's leaders might even respect them for it.