THE second anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has
passed. But the human rights concerns symbolized by Tiananmen have
not been resolved. The Chinese government has still not accounted
for thousands of persons who were killed and imprisoned. There is no
sign of political liberalization.
Instead, despite internal struggles, Beijing has returned to an
emphasis on economic growth. The economy has been so successful that
the trade surplus with the United States may reach $15 billion this
year, up from $10 billion last year.
There are other key issues in US-China relations. Although China
did not veto United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq,
Chinese cooperation on other issues of international peace and
security has been poor. China continues to arm the brutal Khmer
Rouge in Cambodia, and there are ominous signs that China is about
to begin a major export drive for its newest missile systems.
All these issues have become linked to the yearly decision
whether to continue most-favored-nation (MFN) trade relations with
China. President Bush has notified Congress of his intention to
extend MFN for China for another year. In a recent speech at Yale
University, the president argued that denying MFN would deprive the
US of leverage on a broad range of issues, including human rights.
It could further isolate the Chinese leadership and jeopardize the
economic progress that has helped kindle democratic
Some in Congress, including leading Democrats, argue that the US
should deny MFN, or at least make it conditional upon major
improvements in Chinese policies on human rights and other issues.
These issues are extremely important and should be addressed
through all appropriate means. But imposing conditions on MFN that
are unlikely to be met would threaten the well-being of the Chinese
people and put at risk our own influence in China.
The recurrent debate over MFN for China obstructs any coherent
policy toward this extremely important country and has led to an
unproductive stand-off between the president and Congress. The
president, based on his personal experience, well understands the
importance of maintaining orderly relations with China.
Unfortunately, there is a perception that Bush has not turned the
heat up high enough on human rights and other issues.
The MFN debate has diverted attention from more practical
approaches. At worst, it could lead to a complete collapse of our
influence in China. A new approach would help us reach a greater
level of domestic accord and realism on relations with China:
First, the president and Congress should immediately establish a
special commission on US-China relations, comprised of government
officials, congressional leaders and distinguished private citizens
including experts on China. …