Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trade Overshadows Human Rights

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trade Overshadows Human Rights

Article excerpt

When an aide suggested in 1979 that a crackdown on dissidents might not be in China's interests, Deng Xiaoping sneered, "We put Wei Jingsheng behind bars, didn't we? Did that damage China's reputation?"

The paramount leader was mistaken. The jailing of Wei, the young editor of an unauthorized magazine who led the abortive "Democracy Wall" movement, severely damaged China's reputation - and the incarceration did not stop the protest in Tiananmen Square a decade later.

Last year, in a significant gesture, Deng approved the release of China's leading prisoner of conscience a year before the end of his sentence.

Like Nelson Mandela, Wei emerged from his cell unbroken; like Andrei Sakharov, he became an embodiment of the value of freedom, and one day will be a Nobel laureate.

Last month, John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights, held a low-key meeting with Wei in Beijing. This was not provocative; on the contrary, future generations will see it as the most significant Chinese-American contact since Chou En-lai and Richard Nixon shook hands in 1972.

The Chinese leaders wanted to register their displeasure at this diplomatic deference to a dissident. They also wanted to display their machismo (do the Chinese have a word for machismo?) in the face of a U.S. promise to end most-favored-nation trade status unless substantial progress was shown on human rights.

They harassed Wei and rounded up other dissidents. On the eve of a visit from Secretary of State Warren Christopher, this could only be taken as a calculated insult to the United States.

What was the reaction? Incredible.

American business executives in China took the side of the Chinese government against the United States, berating our secretary for jeopardizing their profits with this silly business about democracy.

American editorialists hooted at Christopher for not aborting the trip at the first sign of Beijing's displeasure - as if cutting and running would have impressed the Chinese with U.S. resolve.

Back in Washington, Cabinet members Lloyd Bentsen and Ron Brown undermined the U.S. position by talking trade-status compromise; the national security adviser backgrounded a split-the-difference proposal; and White House aides downmouthed Christopher while the president waffled. …

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