Should China's Human Rights Record Prevent Permanent Normal Trade Relations
Background Since the initial warming of U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s, policymakers have had difficulty balancing conflicting U.S. policy concerns in the Peoples' Republic of China. From Nixon to Clinton, presidents have had to reconcile security and human rights concerns with corporations' desires for expanded economic relations between the two countries. While the U.S. regularly objects to China's human rights violations, the Chinese government counters with complaints that the American concerns represent unwarranted American intrusion into its internal affairs.
In 1989 the Tiananmen Square massacre drew public attention to the inconsistent character of U.S.-China policy. A wave of public indignation with China's repressive practices forced the Bush administration to adopt a sterner posture toward human rights violations and to impose sanctions, including restrictions on bilateral and multilateral aid. But these measures have not satisfied some critics of China's human rights practices, who contend that the U.S. should apply even more rigid trade restrictions against China. Specifically, some critics insist that the U.S. government not give China permanent normal trade relations status, which would free China's government from an annual review of its human rights record by Congress.
Many critics say PNTR standing should be linked to improvements in China's human and labor rights practices - a policy that has been rejected by the Clinton administration. Rather than denying China normal trading status because of human rights violations, the Clinton administration has opted for a policy of comprehensive engagement, which holds that long-term U.S. goals such as human rights improvement are more likely to be achieved through sustained contact and open trading than by further isolating China.
Yet Chinese human rights practices, including respect for political and labor rights, continue to fall well below internationally accepted standards. In perhaps the stickiest issue, the White House warned last week that there was little chance of PNTR for China without legislation setting up a watchdog commission to monitor Beijing's human rights practices. China, however opposes any plans by the U.S. to monitor human rights as a condition to granting PNTR.
On One Hand...
American businesses should not be coddled at the expense of human rights. Despite expressions of concern for human rights conditions, the U.S. government has allowed narrow economic interests, particularly those of corporate investors, to guide its China policy. So far, the U.S. government has been unwilling to jeopardize U.S. economic relations by adopting stricter human rights conditions on aid and trade.
China's trade status is currently reviewed annually by Congress. By establishing permanent normal trade relations and doing away with the annual vote, the U.S. will give up its leverage over China's human rights policies. Permanent normal relations should not be granted until long-term progress is made on human rights in China.
On the Other Hand...
The United States government has no authority to sit in judgment on the human rights records of other governments, especially given the U.S. government's own complicity in some human rights violations in foreign lands.
You don't have to embrace a government or its policies to engage in trade. If trade were a beauty contest, we'd trade only with a small group of nations that mirror our own society, and would be in a virtual cold war with the rest. Furthermore, U.S. imposed trade barriers are unlikely to change the policies of China's communist leaders. The most powerful force for labor, human rights, and the environment is economic liberalization and global market forces. Growth and rising income give workers the chance to improve their lives.
History & Facts
· In 1994 President Clinton officially delinked trade and human rights in China. According to Human Rights Watch, every year since delinkage, human rights conditions in China have gotten worse.
· According to Amnesty International's 1999 China Report: Hundreds, possibly thousands, of activists and suspected opponents of the government were detained during the year. Thousands of political prisoners jailed in previous years remained imprisoned. Some had been sentenced after unfair trials, others were still held without charge or trial. ...Torture and ill-treatment remained endemic, in some cases resulting in death.
· According to the U.S. State Department's 1998 China Human Rights Report: The Government continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms.