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US-China relations are on the verge of a new, post-Tiananmen Square era, following a decade of wrangling in Congress over the ways in which the world's most populous nation oppresses its own citizens.

Wednesday's House vote to approve permanent normal trade status for Beijing won't end US complaints about Chinese government behavior. Getting a divided China to live up to free-trade promises is likely to require constant pressure - and discussions about human rights are sure to continue.

But if the Senate follows the House lead, as looks likely, Congress will in essence have agreed to stand back and let China try to integrate itself with the global economy on its own terms (view from China, page 6). The world will then learn whether the forces of 21st-century capitalism can moderate an authoritarian nation's internal policies, where 10 years of jawboning largely could not.

"The vote will contribute to the evolution of the world in a more peaceful and prosperous direction," insists Michael Oksenberg, a Stanford University China expert.

House passage of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China may illustrate an important factor of 21st century geopolitics. Like it or not, for good or bad, the world is in an era when the values of pure global economics are triumphant.

"It's clear that there is no turning back on the road from nationalism to economic globalization," says Ben Barber, a political scientist at Rutgers University.

There is significant opposition to the fact that trade often trumps human rights. That can be seen in the demonstrations that hit Seattle during the World Trade Organization meetings there, and in the less-severe protests in Washington during the International Monetary Fund's annual meetings. …


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