Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Free Trade Doesn't Improve Human Rights

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Free Trade Doesn't Improve Human Rights

Article excerpt

The recent articles "The Clinton pattern: trade first," and "After China pact, a diminished role for human rights?" reveal the contradictory nature of the Clinton administration's economic statecraft.

Most studies show that economic sanctions seldom succeed in achieving their goals - changing the target state's behavior. Immodest goals, such as human rights or territorial integrity, are especially problematic. So Clinton was right in 1994 when he "delinked" human rights from the annual debate over China's most favored nation (MFN) trade status, by asserting that trade should be trade, and nothing more.

But he then disingenuously oversold free trade as the silver bullet for human rights and democracy in China. If negative economic statecraft (sanctions) won't bring about human rights improvements, there is no evidence that positive economic statecraft (MFN or WTO membership) in itself will do the trick. Cuba is a WTO member, but has MFN changed its human rights practices? If free trade can bring about democracy in Russia, why shut Russia out of the WTO? Again, trade is trade, and nothing more.

Ironically, whereas sensible Americans may eventually understand the limits to economics as a foreign-policy instrument, the Chinese seem to attach a clear connection between WTO and human rights - both symbolize its desire to be accepted as a great power. In this regard, Beijing would have made more improvements in human rights had MFN still hung in suspense.

Regrettably, the Clinton administration threw that leverage away.

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang Richmond, Va.

Decatur brawlers deserve less

Public opinion regarding the fight that broke out during a high school sports event in Decatur, Ill. has gotten out of hand ("Ground zero of zero-tolerance for violence," Nov. 18). Fear over a brawl in the absence of weapons, labeling all the young men involved as thugs and pronouncing them all underachievers is totally unconscionable. In this situation I agree that a short suspension is reasonable and fair. …

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