Bush and China

May 17, 1991

President Bush is willing to risk a fight with Congress over human rights to retain most favored nation status for China, a designation worth billions of dollars in foreign trade. The president, who represented the United States in Beijing as the countries began to resume diplomatic relations and considers himself an expert on China, cites "big picture" concerns -- the strategic importance of this huge country as well as its cooperation in the U.N. Security Council during the Persian Gulf crisis. It's worth noting, however, that the Soviet Union, which was even more supportive of the allied coalition, does not enjoy preferential trade status.

Bush may well be right to concentrate on the big picture with regard to China, though he has little to show for it in the two years since the government crushed demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. But even if such a policy is wise, it's breathtakingly inconsistent. After all, his administration has continued the Reagan policy of using China's one-child-per-couple population program as a reason to deny funding to any international family planning agency that operates in China. Why? Because in the early years of China's desperate effort to get control of its runaway population growth, there were reports of overzealous family planning workers who coerced women to have abortions.

What the president is saying, then, is that human rights should not interfere on a issue like trade, but that alleged excesses in desperately needed population control are reason enough to deny U.S. aid to family planning efforts around the world. If Bush really wants preferential trade status for China, maybe Congress should let him have it -- but only on the condition that the administration abandon the hypocrisy it is perpetuating by using China to curry favor with anti-abortion groups at home, at severe cost to people in poor countries and, ultimately, to the the planet.

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