In March / April 2000, the Clinton administration and business interests initiated a major publicity campaign to secure passage through Congress of the "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" (PNTR) legislation, granting China permanent "normal" trade status with the United States. Under previous legislation, China could only be granted "Most Favored Nation" status on an annual basis after a manadatory review by Congress.
The PNTR was one of China's demands in the deal brokered between the US and China in November 1999, as part of the negotiations on China's accession to the World Trade Organization, WTO. A vote on the issue is foreseen in the week of 22 May 2000.
Mr. Democracy to Three-No Clinton: "Why do you have to push for a reunion with China?"
Mr. Clinton and the business interests are trying to argue the case on economic and national security grounds, saying that it will "dramatically expand US exports to China", and that it will "encourage China's evolution to a more open, democratic and market-oriented system." Mr. Clinton has sent a whole array of Administration officials, such as Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, former economic advisor Laura D'Andrea Tyson, and even US ambassador to China Joseph Prueher on the road for rosy portrayals of the benefits which would befall the US if this legislation passes.
The rosy snapshots are accompanied by dire warnings of what would come about if the legislation fails to pass: Laura Tyson intoned in an article in Business Week ("The Most Important Vote Congress will Cast this year", 1 May 2000) that in that case " the concessions made to join the WTO will only apply to the US's competitors." Admiral Prueher, in an interview with the Washington Post went even further, saying that
" there are just a whole spate of issues in the downside category that are ugly." He then went on to say that US business would suffer, the non-proliferation dialogue wouldn't resume, and (note this) " the US will be perceived as an unreliable partner."
Taiwan Communiqué comment: Ms. Tyson of course overlooks the fact that it is generally US business interests, which pushes to rush headlong into unreliable and unstable markets such as China's. Certainly European companies are much more cautious, and tread much more gingerly. In any case, it is unconscionable of Ms. Tyson to try to play off US business interests against those of other Western nations.
Mr. Prueher's scare tactics are equally objectionable: as a military man he should be aware of the dangers of a large and powerful, but undemocratic and highly nationalistic nation. China itself is showing itself to be an unreliable -- and highly aggressive -- "partner". Failure to try to restrain it now will have unimaginable consequences in the future.
On the other side of the fence, a coalition of major labor organizations and human rights groups argue against passage of the NPTR on the grounds that it will mean the disappearance of large numbers of U.S. jobs to low-wage China, and that it would deprive the United States of the annual debate as a leverage to urge China to abide by international human rights and labor standards.
This coalition is supported on the side of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party by such prominent figures as House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and on the side of the conservative wing of the Republican Party by leading Republicans such as Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA).
In an excellent OpEd article in the Washington Post ("The Chinese Gulags", 29 April 2000), Congressman Wolf outlined his arguments against passage of PNTR. He started by referring to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a well-known German theologian who spoke out against Hitler's nazi practices during World War II, and who was arrested in 1943 and hanged just a few weeks before the end of the war.
Congressman Wolf then compared Bonhoeffer to several Chinese religious leaders, who refused to be silenced by the Beijing government, and who were imprisoned, tortured, physically abused, and in some cases killed. Mr. Wolf stated that there are more Gulag prisons in China today than there were in the former Soviet Union when Solzhenitsyn wrote his Gulag Archipelago.
Mr. Wolf then referred to the national security threat that China poses, the high-tech espionage by the Chinese, and China's use of cyber terrorism. He concludes that this vote is indeed one of the most important the Congress will make this year, and that Congress should vote "no" .
In various statements, Mr. Clinton and his administration have termed the upcoming PNTR vote a "no-brainer". The US business community is also using this term left and right (see article in the International Herald Tribune, 24 April 2000).
Taiwan Communiqué comment: It would seem advisable if Mr. Clinton and US business would start using their brains. While everyone agrees that in the long-term, it would indeed be beneficial to have "normal" trade (and other) relations with China, it is China itself, which is behaving very abnormally: it is severely violating the human and religious rights of its own population; it is occupying a small neighboring country, Tibet, and repressing its people; it is militarily threatening another nation, Taiwan, which just achieved a major democratic victory by voting an opposition party into power. And the list goes on.
To grant "normal" trade relations to China now would reward its repressive rulers. It would be equivalent to establishing "normal" relations with nazi-Germany in the 1930s. With the benefit of hindsight, nobody now says that they would do such a thing. Why are these same people and companies so eager to jump on the Chinese bandwagon while the Chinese leaders are fanning the flames of nationalism in very much the same way as Hitler was in the 1930s?
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