The Aftermath of China's Accession to the World Trade Organization
Hsiung, James C., Independent Review
After almost fifteen years of long and hard negotiations, the People's Republic of China was finally, at the end of 2001, admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) ("WTO Ministerial" 2001). By prior agreement, its accession was followed in tandem by Taiwan, admitted under the nomenclature of "The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu." The arrangement was a compromise to avoid the stigma of having "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" in the organization.
With few exceptions, the U.S. mass media treated the landmark development as a nonevent. For China, which is fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages of WTO membership, the most important political significance of the accession is that it confers the fight to act as a "player of equal footing" in the arena of trade and, by extension, on the world political stage. (1) Most analysts and U.S. government officials who had occasion to comment on the event focused on the economic aspect, such as its impact on the world economy as well as on the Chinese economy. (2)
Most available commentaries were positive, even exuberant, about the economic impact on both China and the world. The most exuberant and sustained comments came from the China Business Review (CBR), a publication of the U.S.--China Business Council in Washington, D.C., which ran a series of projections that began on the eve of China's actual accession. The CBR series focused primarily on the economic implications, touching only occasionally on collateral social or legal issues (for example, Chan 2001; Goldstein and Anderson 2002; Ma and Wang 2001; Zeng 2002). Elsewhere, other commentaries touched on the resultant challenge for domestic reforms, including reform of Chinese laws. On the latter, the Bush administration, quite atypically, seemed rather upbeat, expecting that WTO regimes will encourage application of the rule of law in China (Aldonas 2002). (3)
Some spoke of the social effects within China as it opens its previously closed doors, especially in agriculture and the service industry, to fellow WTO members. Such effects include social unrest--possibly even social turmoil (Eckholm 2002, 1)--stemming from the expected rise in unemployment and income disparity as well as in the growth of a more assertive middle class (Shen 2002, 30). Rarely, if at all, did any discourse explore the possible political impact on China's international status and on its role on the world stage. This omission is odd, considering that the inclusion of China among WTO's ranks "makes the WTO a truly global organization," as expressed by Ambassador Sergio Marchi (2002), chairman of the WTO General Council.
To be sure, some discussions did cover possible "political change" if China keeps its promise to live up to WTO rules and to the terms of the many agreements that it concluded with other members in the run-up to its accession (Pei 2001). As a whole, however, these possibilities were limited to the area of domestic change in China. Other discussions touched on political effects in the context of the changing relations between mainland China and Taiwan after both entered the WTO (Hsiung 2001a; J. Huang 2002; Sutter 2002). None of these discussions, however, considered the international political implications of the development. Much less could one find a comprehensive yet balanced and succinct presentation of the various key issues and ramifications of China's WTO entry.
In this article, therefore, I present such a comprehensive survey and analysis. To fill a glaring gap in the existing literature, the discussion pays special attention to the international dimension, in particular to ascertaining how WTO membership may bear on China's world status and affect Chinese relations with key players in the world. The word aftermath in the title indicates that the article does not go into the process of China's negotiations for its WTO accession, which is passe and adequately covered in the literature. …