How to tame China

Trade: Rejection of normalization would send the worst signals and harm U.S. national interests.

May 16, 2000

PERMANENT normal trading relations is not about giving China access to U.S. markets that it does not already have. It is to give U.S. firms, especially financial services, telecommunications and distribution businesses, access they currently lack. As Congress prepares to vote on a major Clinton foreign policy objective in behalf of U.S. economic interests, the president can count on Republican leadership.

It is Democrats in the House of Representatives, goaded by labor unions, who might defeat and embarrass the president.

The United States would be giving up nothing. Certainly not its moral position on human rights. For 20 years, Congress has extended normal trading relations annually for one more year after a grudging debate. That has done nothing for human rights.

Now China wants to enter the World Trade Organization. Bringing it in is a major objective of the United States and the European Union. The goal is to open China's markets in enforceable and measurable ways and to tame China within the community of nations. China has made the concessions required by the United States, and has one more bargaining round to go with the EU.

For Congress to reject the bill would be to withhold U.S. entry to China's markets that will be opening to European nations. Any pretense of that helping U.S. workers or supporting China's dissidents is preposterous. With trade status permanently normalized, the United States would still criticize China's suppression of speech, press and religion. This country will still face decades of tension over China's relations with Taiwan and China's growing military capabilities in the region and arms sales to rogue states.

Dealing with such problems would be much more futile were permanent normal trading relations rejected. The House is being asked to vote in the U.S. national interest. Members should not act as if that were a new concept.

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