Trade split

International | What to do about trade with China: Six Republican presidential hopefuls are decidedly 3-3 on whether to do business

Issue: "The death of discipline?," June 26, 1999

Chinese-made goods may be as ubiquitous as Qui-Gon paraphernalia at the moment, but they only arrive in the United States when Congress and the president pass over as routine their annual obligation to renew China's trade status. The renewal is required by law to keep the container ships flowing from what is still considered a non-market economy. In what has become a rite of summer in Washington, legislators and lobbyists who oppose normal trade with China will use the debate this month as a forum for reconsidering U.S.-China policy on a number of fronts, most notably human rights. Even with U.S.-China relations at their most depressed, after NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, officials in Beijing made little show of dressing up for the occasion. Authoritarianism, Beijing-style, kept its stern face, as Chinese officials in days surrounding the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown took these actions:

  • They manhandled 50 Christians in the central China city of Xian who were seeking to protect their church from closure. Police put locks on the doors of the building after dragging the protesters into nearby cars and posting sentries to make sure no one entered the church. As many as 500 Christians in Xian have clashed with police since May to prevent closure of the church, the city's oldest and largest.
  • They rounded up 250 members of the Falun Gong sect when they attended the national flag-raising ceremony outside Tiananmen. The sect is under the microscope after 10,000 members rallied for official recognition in Beijing last April. Since then, Communist Party members have been barred from joining the sect.
  • They abstained from a UN resolution on peace in Kosovo shortly after NATO ceased bombing Serb targets.
  • They used a Security Council veto to deny UN consultative status to a human-rights group headed by former Chinese dissidents. The group, Human Rights in China, has collected and corroborated testimonies of Tiananmen Square victims. Congress is expected to vote this month on whether to extend normal trade relations (NTR), formerly called most favored nation (MFN) status, with China. Beijing also is pushing for admission to the World Trade Organization. The debate continues to divide both Republicans and Democrats. It also tends to split social and economic conservatives. Among six presidential hopefuls, three favor "normal" trade relations and three oppose it. Gary Bauer leads the assault on trade-as-usual. He challenged other GOP candidates two weeks ago to also oppose NTR, in light of revelations about Chinese spying at U.S. nuclear laboratories. "One of the most pressing priorities facing the next president is the need for a new foreign policy with China, a policy rooted in America's vital national interest and basic human rights instead of a policy primarily rooted in trade," Mr. Bauer said. Candidates Dan Quayle and Steve Forbes agree with that view. The former vice president said in a May speech that China is "not ready for WTO." He also warned lawmakers to be wary of renewing China's trade status. Spokesman Jonathan Baron said publication of the Cox report did nothing to change Mr. Quayle's views. Steve Forbes adamantly opposes China's entry into the WTO and thinks China's espionage activities threaten its trade status as well, according to his spokeswoman Juleanna Glover. GOP frontrunners George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole want unfettered trade. "I still believe it is important for China to open its markets to U.S. producers and U.S. products," the governor of Texas said during a recent news conference. He said U.S. producers should not be punished because of China's spying. Elizabeth Dole believes China should be admitted to the WTO because "trade is one of the most important tools for forcing humanitarian and pro-democratic change," according to her spokesman, Ari Fleischer. He said he expected the former Red Cross head to support a continuation of normalized trade status. Sen. John McCain downplayed the report on Chinese spying and said it would not change his support for normalized trade relations with China. "If we cut off normal trade relations with every nation that spies on us, we might be trading with Canada and I am not even sure about that," the Arizona Republican said. "It's hard for me to believe that anyone would be surprised that China is spying on us," he said. Recent polls show most Americans are not so cavalier. After release of the congressional report detailing espionage by Beijing at U.S. nuclear laboratories, 46 percent of Americans surveyed in a Time-CNN poll said they believe China is a serious threat to national security. Only 34 percent saw Iraq as a threat; 16 percent felt that way about Yugoslavia.

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