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Let's make a deal

"Let's make a deal" Continued...

Issue: "Top 100 Books 1999," Dec. 4, 1999

Even critics of China's policy toward religious groups believe the trade agreement can be a stepping stone to greater freedom. "It can be very beneficial with groups who want to work with the church in China," said Brent Fulton, director of the China Studies Center at Wheaton College and editor of China Watch. "It will lead to more international exchanges of all kinds, and generally it will provide for a more open atmosphere," he said. Mr. Fulton also believes that more business freedom in China will lead to less centralized control, which will help independent churches.

Daniel Griswold, an economist with the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. "I don't believe there is anything in the agreement specifically about cultural exchanges. But there is strong reason to believe that China's entry into WTO will increase those types of activities," he said.

According to Mr. Griswold, there is "solid evidence" that China's economy will grow as a result of the agreement, and that more of its moribund state-run industries will be forced to close.

Proponents of the agreement also say it will lead to greater respect for the rule of law. "Right now, China can change most of its rules however it wants to; if they are members of the WTO, they agree to certain obligations," said Mr. Griswold. WTO stipulations include transparency in business transactions and a requirement to open certain parts of the Chinese bureaucracy to public recordkeeping, as other WTO members do.

But changes will not be overnight, Mr. Griswold told WORLD.

Citing evidence that the typical Chinese standard of living has quadrupled, he said, "If you like the trend of the last 20 years, the WTO agreement will move them along and accelerate that process."

But not everyone has that view of history. Opponents of the agreement call it a "sweetheart deal" that promises economic benefit for China without providing a way to promote political freedom.

"People are still arguing the same thing," said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and author of a forthcoming book called Hegemon: China's Plan to Dominate Asia and the World. "They say the freedom to invest and trade would open up not only China's economy but Chinese society and political institutions. It has not happened. And we have given that argument a 20-year trial."

Mr. Mosher called Beijing's present approach to governing "market Leninism." He said, "Unless we move forward to attach conditions to trade with China, and realize that China is our principal adversary in the world, we will not see progress. The only thing standing between us and open confrontation with China is democratization."

If trade is a lever to change China, it lacks torque from U.S. lawmakers. With outstanding congressional investigations into key controversies with China-security breaches, Chinese theft of U.S. military technology, and campaign financing-the House of Representatives voted to continue normal trade relations with China this year by its highest margin ever, 264-166. Figures released by the Commerce Department last week show the U.S. deficit with China has widened to $6.9 billion, the worst imbalance America has ever recorded with any country. And so the cargo ships ride high back to China.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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