Relations with China in national interest

Clinton at JHU: Making the case for free trade with a troubling and growing giant.

March 10, 2000

NO ONE disputes that China is an emerging superpower with the world's largest population, nuclear weapons, great ambitions, bullying diplomacy and enormous economic growth.

How should the United States deal with such a country? Very carefully. A balanced, mature approach should include U.S. military preparedness, discouragement of China's military development, firm diplomacy on China's international conduct, pressure for human rights and full-blown economic relations.

It also requires military support for Taiwan tied to Taipei's own one-China policy, not a blank check risking American lives to any future Taiwan leader for any goal.

Granting China the permanent normal trading relations extended to the 135 members of the World Trade Organization is essential to such an approach. Refusing to do so would be shallow grandstanding, accomplishing nothing for human rights or Taiwan and harming U.S. interests.

Last fall, China made the concessions opening its economy that the United States demanded for supporting China's WTO membership. The European Union's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, will fly to Beijing this month to negotiate a similar deal.

What remains is for Congress to approve the terms the administration won. Beijing made this more difficult by making bellicose threats to interfere in Taiwan's March 18 presidential election.

President Clinton made the case for permanent normal trading relations powerfully on Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. "We can work to pull China in the right direction," he said, "or we can turn our backs and almost certainly push it in the wrong direction."

This is tricky in an election year, though probably not a presidential issue.

George W. Bush has largely agreed with Clinton administration policy on China and will not be able to escape taking a position before Congress votes in June.

Mr. Clinton, unwilling to let the hardheads of Beijing or Congress obstruct it, wants this done on his watch. That will require a full-court press between now and June.

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