July 29, 1999
by Constantine C. Menges
In 1994, President Clinton decided to remove all political conditions in granting communist China Most Favored Nation trade status (MFN) -- open access for its exports to the US. He stated at the time that this would be more likely to lead to improvements in China's international actions and its observance of human rights.
In fact, since 1994 Communist China has behaved more aggressively internationally. It has occupied disputed islands by force, claimed sovereignty over the international South China Sea, has fired medium-range ballistic missiles near the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1995 and again in 1996 in an effort to prevent the completion of Taiwan's transition to democracy. During these years, communist China has used a significant part of the nearly $500 billion in trade surplus it has gained during the 1990s to modernize its military forces, with special emphasis on developing capabilities against US forces in the Pacific.
Currently, China is estimated to have about 300 deployed nuclear warheads with about 32 capable of reaching the US- its land based ICBMs have large nuclear warheads (five megatons) designed to totally destroy large cities. As revealed in the Cox Report, the PRC has supplemented its own technological capacities through an intense program of espionage and the successful theft of nuclear secrets from the US as it further expands its strategic and regional nuclear arsenal. A democratic member of Congress said succinctly that the US is permitting communist China to use its American trade surplus dollars and technology to develop nuclear weapons which it clearly states are meant to prevent the US from interfering with Chinese purposes in Asia.
Contrary to repeated responses and assurances, communist China- identified by the CIA as the major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction in the world- has continued to provide these dangerous capabilities to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq among other states. It could well be said that China is directly responsible for the fact that the dangerous conflict between Pakistan and India now has the additional risk of escalating to a nuclear war between them- it is China which provided Pakistan with the missile and nuclear technology and components. The PRC also uses billions of trade surplus dollars to buy Russian advanced weapons which in turn contributes to Russia's ability to unilaterally upgrade its nuclear missile forces, which currently have 6,000 warheads capable of reaching the US.
Since 1950, China has accepted the obligations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom of thought, religion, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Since then, in the 1990's, the regime signed two further conventions on human rights. But, as the Department of State Report on Human Rights makes clear, political, religious, and ethnic repression continues and the regime's "human rights record deteriorated sharply" in 1998. Estimates are that there are 6 to 8 million confined in forced labor camps, and more than 200,000 in prison without trial.
Communist China continues to pursue a policy of managed trade: it restricts US and other countries' exports to its territory, while expanding its exports to the US and the other industrial democracies. As a result of this one way market access, its coerced and therefore very low cost labor force, its 1994 devaluation, communist China from 1990 to 1998, accumulated a total trade surplus of $474 billion- of which $274 billion was with the US and another $200 billion in surplus with Japan and the EU. This pattern both permits the communist regime to earn large profits from its dictatorial control over Chinese workers and is unfair to the working people in the industrial democracies. China also demands that US firms using its coerced labor force to make profits through their exports back to the US provide China with their most advanced technology. Currently, although some large US corporations make profits, it is very likely that China will use the technology and its coerced labor force to undersell Western business throughout the world.
For these reasons, the Congress should not renew Most Favored Nation Trading Status (MFN) for China as President Clinton has again proposed. Instead, the US should pursue a new national interest policy of realistic rather than unconditional engagement with communist China.
This would include strict reciprocity in trade in that China may export to the U.S. the same value of goods the U.S. is permitted to export to China. Any additional one way market access opportunities granted by the U.S. to China would depend on China taking three actions: freezing its buildup of nuclear weapons; ending its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and, implementing human rights commitments to which it has obligated itself in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, there should be an increase in people to people contact with pro-democracy groups in China. A more realistic US policy also includes strengthening defensive alliance relationships with friendly countries in Asia.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Times on July 29, 1999
Dr. Constantine Menges, a scholar, author, and university professor, was a Hudson Institute senior fellow until July, 2004.
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