Don't Link Human Rights and China Trade How Washington Can Keep Human Rights Central to a Broad Agenda with Beijing

By John F. Kerry. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1994 | Go to article overview

Don't Link Human Rights and China Trade How Washington Can Keep Human Rights Central to a Broad Agenda with Beijing


John F. Kerry. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee., The Christian Science Monitor


IT is time for a new dialogue with China. Conditioning trade on progress in human rights is no longer the most effective tool to promote our interests in China, including human rights.

Our policy of conditioning most-favored-nation trade status (MFN) on improvements in human rights in China grew out of the grotesque confrontation in June 1989 in Tiananmen Square. It was a policy I wholeheartedly supported and it was correct for 1989. But five years have passed. While repression remains in China, the opening of the economy has allowed a process of social and economic change to begin that hard-liners in the Chinese leadership probably could not stop without paying an exorbitant price.

The better living standards and greater economic choice brought by the presence of American companies are no substitute for fundamental political rights and freedoms. However, the exposure to our values, ideas, and culture is a potent weapon in the struggle to promote those basic rights. It is perhaps our strongest weapon. Cutting off MFN now would thwart the process and empower the hard-liners, who would rather slam shut the open door to China's economic liberalization.

We also must be more mindful that our relationship with China is complex and central to advancement of all our interests in the region, not just human rights. China supplies nuclear-weapons-related materials to some of the most dangerous nations in Asia and the Middle East. With more than $100 billion in foreign trade and a growth rate of 13 percent in the last two years alone, China is also the largest emerging market in the world. It controls the future of Tibet and is the power with the most influence on North Korea. China is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, whose vote we need on critical issues such as Bosnia, peacekeeping, and, possibly, sanctions against North Korea for nuclear proliferation. We cannot afford to adopt a cold-war policy of unilateral exclusion or isolation; it will only backfire.

We must develop a new policy toward China that seeks improvements in human rights as a central tenet, but is broad and flexible enough to recognize and embrace the totality of our interests.

We should set up a program administered out of the United States embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Hong Kong to provide direct assistance to human rights activists. …

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