President Bush recently notified Congress that he will extend normal trade relations with China for another year. "Open trade is a force for freedom in China, a force for stability in Asia, and a force for prosperity in the United States," said Bush.
Meanwhile, China hawks in Congress, chief among them Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,(R-Calif.), promise a renewed effort to repeal normal trade relations in avote later this summer, pointing to China's hostile rhetoric during thestandoff over the downed U.S. surveillance plane, its jailing of visiting academics and its continuing persecution of the Catholic Church and the Falun Gong religious sect. But if the aim is to send a signal to China'scommunist leaders, revoking NTR is among the worst ways to do so. Otherpolicy instruments are available-and more effective.
Revoking NTR would be a disaster. It would harm tens of millions of Americanhouseholds that benefit from the $100-billion worth of Chinese-made clothes,shoes, toys, electronic goods and other imports now entering the UnitedStates each year. It would jeopardize exports to our fourth-largest tradingpartner and chill American investment in China. It would deprive Chineseworkers of relatively well-paying jobs that are helping to build a moreeducated and economically independent middle class. And it would do nothingto promote human rights or modify official Chinese behavior.
Other levers exist to send an effective message to the Chinese leadershipwithout surrendering moral high ground or inflicting collateral damage onmillions of innocent families.
First, the United States should continue to sponsor resolutions at theUnited Nations condemning human rights abuses in China. When China jailsreligious activists, academics and anyone who dares criticize thegovernment, the U.S. officials should not remain silent. There is nocontradiction between trading with China's citizens and denouncing itsgovernment's behavior. Trade encourages the growth of civil society, whilediplomatic criticism deprives the authoritarian government of theinternational acceptance it craves.
Second, China should be denied the 2008 Olympics. Although they arenominally a private-sector event, the Olympics would be used by the Chinesegovernment mostly for propaganda purposes. Hosting the games confers a level of international prestige that the Chinese government does not deserve. The Berlin Olympics of 1936 and the Moscow Olympics of 1980 did nothing to encourage the host governments to improve their human rights records.
Third, the U.S. government should increase its contacts with the freelyelected government of Taiwan. The Chinese leadership is extremely sensitive to the slightest gestures of friendship or cooperation from the United States toward Taiwan. Consider how the communist leadership reacted when Taiwan's then-President Lee paid a private visit to his alma mater, CornellUniversity, in 1995. The brief visit by Taiwan's current President ChenShui-bian to the United States in May sent an unmistakable signal to Beijingthat the American people retain their preference for free-marketdemocracies. More such visits should be allowed in the future.
Fourth, the U.S. government should continue to sell Taiwan the militaryhardware it needs to defend itself, consistent with the 1979 TaiwanRelations Act. Taiwan's 22 million citizens have a right to defend theirproperty and freedoms from the threat of invasion. What weapons to includein the package is a matter of judgment. But the signal to be sent is thatthe communist dictatorship has no moral right to force the people of Taiwanto give up self-government.
Fifth, the U.S. government should maintain full diplomatic relations withChina but not kowtow. Relations should be businesslike and constructive,without the unnecessary pomp of Champagne toasts and sugarcoated flattery. After all, we are not dealing with a representative government electedfreely by its citizens, but an authoritarian regime that tolerates nopolitical competition and jails people who exercise freedom of speech,assembly and religion. Human rights should be raised at the highest levels.
Each of those levers has the virtue of being more easily calibrated than thedrastic, all-or-nothing action of revoking normal trade relations. Contacts with Taiwan can be ratcheted up or down in response to Chinese behavior. The tone of human rights resolutions can be adjusted to reflect positive or negative developments.
Combining normal trade relations and diplomatic pressure would constitute acoherent policy of "full and constructive engagement." It would combine the exceptional American virtues of idealism and economic liberty, transcending a morally blind commercialism on the one hand and ineffective and self-destructive trade sanctions on the other.