Waiting for China


When the young Chinese dissident, Qin Yongmin, opposed Beijing's bid for the summer 2000 Olympics last year because of China's suppression of human and political rights, he was sentenced to two years at hard labor without a trial. Add him to the 1,700 Asia Watch says are imprisoned in China and Tibet for their religion, politics, or race.

With the world's largest population (1.2 billion, and an added 17 million this year alone), the world's fastest growing economy (13 percent in real growth last year), the world's largest standing army (over 3 million and a defense budget that has grown 22 percent since 1988), and a 4,000-year cultural heritage, China's political, economic, and strategic significance is commanding. That is why President Bill Clinton has wisely concluded that America's future prosperity will be linked in significant measure to the economic and political emergence of China. His playing host to Asian leaders in Seattle last November was an important signal of his intent to look East. Clinton's attention to U.S.-Chinese relations--in particular his executive order last June that China must improve its human-rights record if it hopes to retain most-favored-trading-partner status with the United States---is evidence of an important foreign policy initiative. To develop, clarify, and execute such a China policy will require both tact and resolve.

* Tact. The Communist rulers in Beijing take criticism both internal and external-seriously. But they should: There is a great deal to criticize. The 1989 routing of democratic reformers, the Tiananmen massacre, and China's continued subjugation of Tibet are not aberrations but deliberate national policy. Religious believers who refuse to give full allegiance to the Chinese government continue to be hounded and imprisoned. The annual report on human rights violations issued by the U.S. State Department in February gave a particularly sobering evaluation of China. And more recently still, China's rejection of political reforms instituted in Hong Kong and its criticism of Britain for allowing such democratic experiments adds to a long list of negative reactions to international concerns about human rights.

Last summer President Clinton threatened to rescind China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status with the United States if Beijing does not make significant progress in human rights matters by this June.

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