Sell democracy to China through WTO membership

This past week, congressional lawmakers have been frantically debating trade relations with China. A motley band of Republicans and Democrats believe that extending permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) will not only lower tariffs and create a new market for American businesses, but will also allow democracy to work its way into the Communist nation. A majority of Democrats, however, supported and pressured by organized labor, along with religious and environmental groups express concerns about human-rights abuses, aggressions toward Taiwan, religious persecution and environmental degradation. They are convinced that PNTR status should be granted to China only after improvements have been made. Such a viewpoint is based on principle, not just profit, and ideally is the choice the United States should make. Unfortunately, worldwide business competition, pragmatic politics and painful necessity dictate that America, for better or worse, should extend PNTR status to China.
For the past few years, China has been attempting to enter the community of international trade. Just days ago, the Chinese government signed a trade deal with the European Union, while the American counterpart awaits congressional approval. Even if the United States did not grant China PNTR status, the nation is essentially guaranteed entry into the World Trade Organization.
Once in the WTO, if America did not extend PNTR status to China, the Chinese government could exclude America from benefits that other counties would receive. It would be an important loss to our economy, as American competitors would have access to markets American businesses would be restricted from.
Not only would America lose access to markets, but we would lose the chance to directly engage Chinese society. While China and America have had some cultural exchanges, PNTR status would dramatically increase dialogues about the benefits of democracy. As average Chinese citizens become increasingly exposed to the advantages democracy and capitalism could bring, hopefully it will be harder for Chinese leaders to ignore demands for change.
The possibilities of tomorrow, however, must be countered with the realities of today, as Chinese police are dragging practitioners of Falun Gong to jail. This is only one example of many abuses perpetuated by the Chinese government, and it should not be the price of business to trade with them.
Also, there would be the loss of a bargaining chip that comes with PNTR status. When Congress reviews the trade status with China, their government always releases a few dissidents — no doubt a forced gesture, though it does illustrate that China does value trade agreements. With PNTR status, China will no longer need to perform this yearly act of contrition.
The United States must grant PNTR status to China, not because it is the right thing to do, but because we are in a situation where not to do so would be costly. Multinational corporations and other governments see nothing more than the profits they could be making in this untapped market. Sadly enough, some in our government agree, so with the rest of the world stumbling over themselves to enter into Chinese markets, it would be foolish for America not to follow.