Commentary

“PNTR Plus” Will Pressure China from Inside and Out

By Deroy Murdock
May 17, 2000
China’s political elite lack political savvy. To modernize their country, they should inspire Congress to approve Permanent Normal Trading Relations later this month. Instead, China’s high priests steepen the road to PNTR adoption through wicked and stupid actions. These leaders recently have handed blunt instruments to American protectionists and other detractors with which to beat Beijing over the head and shoulders.

As the Wall Street Journal reported April 20 on its front page, Chen Zixiu died February 21 after allegedly enduring four days of torture at a re-education center in Weifang for not repudiating her beliefs in Falun Gong. China banned this meditation movement last year and has arrested and imprisoned thousands of its adherents.

Wang Fengchao, a top PRC official in Hong Kong, told journalists there on April 13 not to cover news by advocates of Taiwanese independence. Wang even proposed a local anti-subversion law to mandate pro-Beijing spin. Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa soon reminded Beijing’s ham-handed emissary that the region’s “One China, Two Systems” arrangement guarantees a free press.

The Chinese government purged pro-market intellectuals Fan Gang, Li Shenzhi, Liu Junning and Mao Yushi from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in early April for Westernization. Liu’s colleagues at the Political Science Research Institute previously complained to Communist Party functionaries about his improper thoughts.

So long as Chinese officials act this way, America should pursue a policy I call “PNTR Plus.” China’s private sector should receive the encouragement it needs through expanded ties to their U.S. counterparts. As for the Plus, America’s public sector should pressure Chinese authorities through increasingly vocal, candid and energetic criticism of Beijing’s domestic and foreign misdeeds. Similarly, China deserves equally prominent praise when it advances human rights and democracy.

Americans will enjoy more Chinese-made apparel and appliances at reasonable prices if PNTR passes. (Conversely, reduced access to such goods would cost an average U.S. family $302 annually if PNTR fails.) Still, China’s private citizens will remain the greatest beneficiaries of tighter Sino-American ties. Western investment has improved Chinese living standards enormously in just two decades.

Since 1978, the World Bank reports, 200 million Chinese have escaped poverty as per-capita GNP zoomed from $147 in 1978 to $711 in 1998. While nearly all Chinese were government workers 20 years ago, 75 percent of them are employed privately today.

Even dissidents support faster economic growth as the most powerful prescription to promote Chinese liberty. The West should not try to isolate the Communist regime, says Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. Economic change does influence political change. China’s economic development will be good for the West, as well as for the Chinese people.

Nonetheless, the Clinton Administration rarely makes China pay even a high rhetorical price for its misconduct. A comment here and a white paper there do not rival the sustained public diplomacy that defined Ronald Reagan’s engagement with the then-USSR. While he repeatedly met with Mikhail Gorbachev, President Reagan minced no words in dubbing the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. Through Radio Free Europe, Reagan’s message echoed from Vilnius to Vladivostok. He met publicly with the Afghan freedom fighters who battled the Red Army. Speaking in West Berlin, Reagan famously demanded of his opposite number: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Such straightforward, principled and consistent pronouncements bolstered pro-freedom forces behind the Iron Curtain and, eventually, helped demolish that very wall.

Similarly — where quiet diplomacy fails — Washington must speak loudly, clearly and constantly against Beijing’s abuses of the Falun Gong, Tibetan monks, political opponents and other counterrevolutionaries. Taiwan’s new president, Chen Shui-bian, and the Dalai Lama should be received grandly at the White House. If that upsets Chinese President Jiang Zemin, President Clinton ought to tell him to get over it and invite Jiang to huddle with Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Rossello and Pat Robertson if he wishes to get even.

If China wants to play with the big boys in the WTO and other international economic bodies, it should act the part. Cato Institute Sinologist Jim Dorn suggests linking international loans to improved human rights. “Why should we continue to lend China fantastic sums through the World Bank basically for its repressive government.”

U.S. officials also should applaud Beijing warmly for such recent advances as village-level elections featuring non-Communist candidates, some of whom actually win.

In short, “PNTR Plus” would encourage Beijing’s Communist government — both privately from within and publicly from without — to ease its grip on its people.

Deroy Murdock is a Senior Fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a policy advisor to the Cato Institute.