U.S. must stand up to China’s misdeeds

President Clinton’s meeting with Chinese President Jian Zemin at the Asian economic summit in Manila yesterday offered the world a preview of his administration’s second-term policy toward Beijing. Uncertainty about the extent to which future trading benefits will be tied to Chinese concessions on human rights remains. Nevertheless, the two leaders agreed to meet several times over the next two years to discuss a wide range of contentious trade and human rights issues that have confounded China-U.S. relations for decades.
The future meetings provide Clinton with an opportunity to reassess his administration’s willingness to forgive Chinese misconduct. U.S. policy toward Beijing cannot continue to prioritize base economic interests over international concerns about China’s repressive political system. Instead, Clinton should work toward convincing Japan and Western Europe that Beijing must agree to tear down its protectionist import barriers as well as shed its totalitarian disregard for civil liberties or forfeit its trading privileges in the global economy.
While China has, in fact, liberalized its economy in recent years, its political system remains closed. Dissidents are zealously pursued by the government and anyone who speaks up for democracy or freedom of speech is likely to be thrown in jail. The Clinton administration should not grant China its request for permanent normalized trading relations or agree to repeal existing sanctions until it changes its ways. Beijing’s desire to be admitted into the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based group that sets the rules for global trade, must be similarly denied until China signs on to more cooperative trade agreements.
The Clinton administration hasn’t been harsh enough in the past on China’s abuse of human rights. The president agreed to grant China most-favored-nation trading status even though Beijing consistently denounced criticisms of its systematic abuse of civil liberties as threats to its sovereignty. Clinton can no longer stand by quietly while China attempts to expand its repressive regime. Beijing is backpedaling on its promise to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy when it becomes part of China next year. China is also seeking to expand its influence in the economies of South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia as well as its other Asian neighbors. Beijing’s efforts to dominate Asia can only be curtailed if its most lucrative trading partners refuse to do business with Beijing until it abides by internationally recognized economic and moral standards.
Economic forecasters predict that by 2025 China will have the largest economy in the world. Certainly, U.S. policy toward Beijing should be directed at creating collaborative diplomatic channels. While the Clinton administration should respect China for its growing economic and strategic power, the United States should not underestimate its own strength and influence in the international community. Beijing’s reliance on lucrative, one-sided trade relationships with the United States, Japan and Western Europe have aided China’s rise to near-superpower status. The United States is the only nation with the economic leverage to make Beijing understand that it must play by the rules or risk losing its place in the global economy’s profitable trading circle.