- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2000

Forty Tiananmen Square demonstrators were in Beijing Prison No. 1 making socks and plastic shoes for export to the West when Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Chris Smith of New Jersey saw them in 1990. "Most of those people are still in prison and their families don't even know where they are," Mr. Wolf told The Washington Times though he said the slave labor site had been shut down two years later due to the congressmen's testimony. Now, 10 years later, a State Department report released last month says the Chinese government "continued to commit widespread abuses and well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms." The government's poor human rights record, it said, had "deteriorated markedly throughout the year," and it estimated several thousand citizens had been detained for peacefully expressing their political, religious and social beliefs. Now the Clinton administration is fighting to make China's bad behavior official by getting the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva to give Beijing a scolding. Needless to say, China is not impressed.

"If the U.S. administration decides to sponsor the anti-China resolution, we believe, like in previous situations, the majority of the commission will be on China's side," Shen Goufang, China's deputy representative at the United Nations told The New York Times.

Despite the report's finding to the contrary, China has "the best human rights situation in its history," he said. Apparently Beijing considers "a blood soaked battle" to keep Taiwan as part of China a perfectly humane way to do business as well. While the government and its security forces imprison political prisoners and employ torture in the form of electric shocks, prolonged solitary confinement or beatings all of which the State Department reported were existent or serious problems there the Chinese military is setting its sights beyond the mainland.

The battle cry issued by the Chinese military again last week in anticipation of Taiwan's presidential election is probably more talk than action, as the Chinese don't have the transport fleet needed to invade Taiwan at the moment. But the message from the authoritarian government was clear: "Taiwanese independence means war," Gen. Zhang Wannian, a top military leader told legislators.

Beijing will have to tread more carefully if it wants to win international approval for entrance to the World Trade Organization, though. Jeopardizing Taiwan's economy would likely isolate China further from the international community. Though the State Department report noted progress in the economy, it noted that it faces "growing problems, including state enterprise reform, unemployment, underemployment, and regional economic disparities."

Here, the government is willing to be more honest. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji railed against the widespread corruption and smuggling that fuels the Chinese economy. While leading an investigation into a $10 billion smuggling and corruption ring which involves officials on multiple levels of government, he still has high hopes for getting China into the WTO.

As discussions on granting China permanent normal trade status heat up in Congress this month, paving the way for China to enter the trade organization, the State Department has given China a well-timed reminder of multiple ways it hopes China will seek reform. China's membership in the WTO could provide unprecedented economic opportunity for both countries, but WTO membership is no magic solution for changing China's government into one that abides by international norms of behavior. If and only if WTO rules and standards are enforced, it could, however, be a step along the way.

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