- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

For all the pyrotechnics accompanying the debate in Washington and across the country over whether to grant China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), it is worth noting that the issue is not only controversial in the United States. It is also extremely controversial in Beijing and throughout China. With the crucial vote now imminent in the House, those wavering members who have not yet made up their minds, as well as those who plan to vote against PNTR, should know who in China opposes the deal and who supports it. And why.

The most vociferous opponents of the huge trade concessions China has agreed to make in order to gain entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) concessions China made on the condition that the United States grant it PNTR, rather than continue to provide annual extensions belong to the most reactionary and militaristic forces in China. Indeed, the anti-economic reform wing of China's Communist Party went ballistic in April 1999 when the United States published the details of the concessions that China's reform-minded prime minister, Zhu Rongji, had made in negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. Rightly so, China's reactionary faction viewed the impending dramatic opening of China's economy to global competition and the telecommunications revolution embodied in the Internet and satellite technology as a direct threat. But Chinese reformers were equally right to view China's entry into the WTO as its best chance to jump-start the economic-reform process, knowing the alternative would be catastrophic backsliding.

To be sure, the pro-reform forces aren't evolving democrats. But neither are they remotely comparable to the reactionaries with whom they are contesting for power in China. Unlike their reactionary opponents, however, China's reformers are realists. They know that China will be unable to solve its vast economic problems unless it reinvigorates its economic-reform movement, which the late Deng Xiaoping set in motion in 1978, but which has stalled in recent years.

After two decades during which market-oriented reforms have been the principal factor behind China's economic expansion, which has averaged 10 percent a year, China today is vastly different from the country Mao left behind. Today there is a growing middle class and a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit throughout China, both of which virtually guarantee that demands for political freedoms will intensify as economic well-being continues to accelerate and once near-total dependence upon the state continues to wane.

Understandably, opponents of PNTR have based much of their argument on China's deplorable human rights record. However, something else is equally clear. China's political dissidents are quite divided over the issue of granting PNTR to China. While many exiled dissidents oppose PNTR, including human rights heroes Wei Jingsheng and Harry Wu, it is also true that many internal Chinese dissidents believe China's entry into the WTO would be the principal catalyst for long-term political reform. "All of the fights for a better environment, labor rights and human rights these fights we will fight in China tomorrow," Dai Qing, one of China's most prominent environmentalists and dissidents recently told The Washington Post. "But first we must break the monopoly of the state. To do that," Dai argues, "we need a freer market and the competition mandated by the WTO."

The American labor movement, which has been masquerading its reflexive protectionism as a concern for worker and human rights in China, would do well to consider the view of Zhou Litai, one of China's most prominent labor lawyers. "American consumers are a main catalyst for better worker rights in China," Zhou told The Post. "They are the ones who pressure Nike and Reebok to improve working conditions at Hong Kong- and Taiwan-run factories [in China.] If Nike and Reebok go and they could very well if [PNTR] is rejected," Zhou asserts, "this pressure evaporates. This is obvious."

In casting their votes to deny PNTR for China, House members will not only be voting to deprive American businesses, workers and farmers the opportunity to exploit the market access that PNTR would provide. They would also be voting the way China's most reactionary and militaristic leaders would want them to vote.

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