Magazine article Insight on the News

They Saw No Evil and Spoke No Evil

Magazine article Insight on the News

They Saw No Evil and Spoke No Evil

Article excerpt

Despite an 800-page report on theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, and hearings on software piracy and human-rights abuses, Congress voted mst favored nation trade status for China.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. You can show a congressman hours upon hours of testimony detailing software piracy, humanrights abuses and nuclear espionage by the People's Republic of China, or PRC, but you can't make him conclude that Red China should be considered a pariah among the family of nations. In particular, you can't make him consider pariah over pocketbook and vote against a continued easing of trade terms with Beijing.

The policy used to be called granting "most favored nation," or MFN, trading status for China. In diplomatic parlance MFN meant that the United States would grant the same trade status to China as to the country to which we already grant the best terms. Nowadays, that's nearly every other country. But the pro-China trade crowd realized that it looked ridiculous to call a communist country a most-favored nation, so they changed the designation to "normal trade relations," or NTR.

Having decided that it was normal to trade with a nation such as the PRC, Congress voted overwhelmingly in late July to renew the favorable trade status. In some ways the move could be considered a logical disconnect between the willingness to trade and recognition of the despicable way China treats its workers and citizens. But it wasn't as though Congress hadn't heard about what was going on. Of the 260 congressmen who voted in favor of NTR, 125 served on committees that heard excerpts from the Cox report and/or related testimony within the last year on Chinese human-rights abuses, nuclear espionage, software piracy and illegal contributions during the 1996 presidential campaign.

The numbers confirm the disconnect. Two-thirds of the Cox committee -- the popular name for the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People's Republic of China -- voted for NTR, despite revelations of China's behavior. Sixty percent of the congressmen who served on the House Science subcommittee on Energy, and half of those who served on the House Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, voted for NTR.

Many of those lawmakers favoring NTR chaired the very committees that investigated Chinese activities, such as Republican Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and a member of the Cox committee; and Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington state, the ranking Democrat of both the Cox committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Senate's record is similar. Of the 87 senators who voted for NTR, 73 served on one or more committees that heard so-called Chinagate testimony -- including Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama and Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on International Security Chairman Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Congress could not claim ignorance of China's espionage activities. The Cox report, an 800-page document that detailed the recent PRC theft of U.S. strategic military technology was presented to Congress in classified form in January, making clear the Chinese threat to U.S. national security. Moreover, in addition to briefings for Congress upon release of the report, more than 14 committees and eight subcommittees in both houses had separate hearings to discuss the report, most of which included additional full readings of the document. Committee Chairman Christopher Cox of California voted against NTR.

Lawmakers agree that they were deluged with data on China's misdeeds: "[Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska] heard five readings of the Cox report," his spokesman tells Insight. Moreover, the information was received on a timely basis, since many of the hearings were held less than a month prior to the vote on NTR. …

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