Opening an annual battle with Congress, President Clinton Wednesday proposed renewing normal trade relations with China, saying "this policy is clearly in our nation's interest."

Announcing his decision in the Rose Garden, Clinton said that failure to renew normal trade ties would sever the United States' economic and strategic relationship with Beijing.Further, he said it would amount to "turning our back on a fourth of the world at a time when our cooperation for world peace and security is specially important in light of the recent events in South Asia." He was referring to nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan.

Many in Congress oppose the president's policy. This year's battle is complicated by questions about the administration's technology transfers to Beijing as well as investigations in alleged Chinese campaign contributions.

Clinton was joined at the announcement by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, departing later Wednesday for Geneva for a five-nation meeting, hosted by China, on steps to prevent an escalation of nuclear tensions in South Asia.

"This is an important example of how our engagement with China serves America's interests, stability in Asia, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combating international crime and drug trafficking, protecting the environment," Clinton said.

He said the United States continues to deal forthrightly with China on contentious issues such as human rights. "There have clearly been some concrete results as a result of this engagement as well," he said.

But questions about questionable technology transfers to China are sure to color the debate.