WASHINGTON, D.C.: Following the path that his predecessors have taken since 1980, President Clinton Monday endorsed extending most favored nation status for China despite continued concern over the country's poor record on human rights and arms sales to Iran and Pakistan. Clinton believes that granting China the preferential trade status will help ensure stability in Hong Kong on the eve of its reversion to Chinese rule. Believing that what's good for China will inevitably be good for Hong Kong, not least because many Hong Kong-based companies are profitably engaged in trade protected under the advantage, current British governor Chris Patten and democratic leaders have appealed to the U.S. to extend the trade status. Still, the congressional debate should be more spirited than in years past. Already some members of the House GOP, including Speaker Newt Gingrich and Bill Paxon, have switched to the opposition side. Their chief complaint: that the Administration's policy of "constructive engagement" with China has failed to produce improvements in China's human rights records, to curtail Chinese weapons sales or to open China's markets to U.S. goods.