A free‐market approach to human rights policy does not mean Americans should be indifferent to human rights abuses in China. Steps should be taken by the United States and other nations to restrict China’s use of slave labor, political prisoners, and very young children to compete in international markets. But blanket restrictions, such as the denial of MFN trading status or the use of sanctions not directly targeting the wrongdoers, should be avoided.
The problem is that even limited actions are very difficult to enforce and unlikely to bring about political change in an authoritarian regime. The logical alternative is to use the leverage of trade to open China to competitive forces and let the rule of law and democratic values evolve spontaneously as they have in South Korea and Taiwan.
An individual’s right to trade is an important and fundamental human right, not a privilege bestowed by government. The proper function of government is to safeguard that right, not to restrict trade to protect special interests at the expense of the general welfare. America should not play the dangerous game of pitting human rights activists against free traders.
President Clinton’s decision, in May 1994, to separate trade policy from human rights policy in considering China’s MFN trading status was logical and moral. That policy should be extended to give China unconditional MFN trading status, which should be renamed “normal trade relations.” Extending permanent MFN status to China will reduce uncertainty in trade relations and benefit Taiwan and Hong Kong.