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Jewish World Review May 24, 2000/ 19 Iyar, 5760

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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The heart says no, but
the head says yes -- IF CHINA WINS the trade vote this week in the House of Representatives, which is still no sure thing, the red men in Beijing and their reluctant sometime allies in Washington will have to win it on points.

Nobody, except Bill Clinton and the greedhead captains of American industry, will take much satisfaction from it.

Nevertheless, judged purely on selfish terms, logic insists, against everything the heart says, that granting China permanent most-favored-nation status is the correct thing, if not the right thing, to do. But holding your nose to vote yes is not the stuff of heroics.

The heart insists the head must make a deferential nod to Bill Clinton, who famously said, on the eve of the vote on a congressional resolution of support for the Gulf war in 1991, that he approved of the resolution but he actually supported those who were voting against it. That never made much sense, but now we know how he felt.

The president, accustomed as he is to saying anything, insists on calling the Chinese in Beijing our "partners." George W., though in favor of a yes vote, insists on calling the Chinese, accurately, our "competitors." The kindest thing you can say about the Chinese is that they don't know what "human rights" means. The Beijing government is actually meaner, more repressive and more brutal about stamping out human rights since Mr. Clinton made his magical mystery tour of the mainland two years ago, gorging on Szechuan chicken, crispy fried beef, shrimp cooked three ways and fawning flattery cooked in more ways than that, all the while toadying to Beijing.

You could ask anyone in Hong Kong, where the rule of law introduced by the British has been steadily dissolving, along with freedom of the press and its Siamese twin, freedom of speech. What can you say about a government that is so terrified of its people that it tries to stamp out a study group that meets only to practice calisthenics and breathing?

So why are we rewarding such a government? A good question, and the answers, though sensible, aren't happy ones. The captains of corporate America insist that the liberalization of trade will open vast new markets for American factories, that those billion or so Chinese worker ants who make 13 cents an hour just can't wait to buy our Cadillacs, yachts, microwave ovens, toasters, cell phones, and, in the case of chicken pluckers like Tyson and Perdue, the feet of our dead chickens, a taste treat in Shanghai and Beijing but thrown out with the trash in the Ozarks and on the Eastern Shore.

What these captains of commerce are actually drooling over are not prospective buyers of American goods (a lot of which are made in Mexico, Malaysia and Indonesia, anyway), but those 13-cent-an-hour worker ants.

The Clinton administration argues, not very persuasively, that China is making "concessions," that it will agree to direct investments in telecommunications and the Internet it's trying to censor, and offer trading rights and greater participation to foreigners. These are paper promises, and this administration's record of enforcing agreements from men and governments it is afraid of is not a good one.

The most persuasive argument is a negative one — that continuing to deny trading rights to China will do nothing to shut down repression in China. Some Chinese who know Beijing best make this argument. Martin Lee, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party who continues, three years after the hand-over of the colony, to be a pain to Beijing, concedes — nay, shouts —that repression is the way of life in China.

"But I am nonetheless lending my support for China's entry into the world trading community," he says. ". . . This is not a reward for China. . . . The rule of law is the key principle underlying active membership in global trade organizations. The principles of free and open trade are based on mutual recognition that all countries must regard one another as equals, with reciprocal rights and reciprocal obligations. Impartial rules of trade among nations could thus help convince China of the importance of equal rights under the law in the domestic sphere, too."

Not only that, Taiwan gets in, too. The World Trade Organization has no dual levels of membership. Gag, retch, like it or not, the red men will have to sit down with representatives of free China and talk to them as equals. The sight of that might be reason enough to vote yes.

Winston Churchill once described capitalism as a corrupt and dismal economic system whose only virtue is that it is superior to all other systems. That's the only way to think of a yes vote for China. Voting yes is better than voting no, but just barely.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000 Wes Pruden