Opponents of expanded trade ties with China have long viewed human rights as their signature issue, one of the best reasons not to do business with Beijing.
But in the debate over a landmark trade agreement with China now before Congress, business groups and the Clinton administration have touted the benefits of commerce for human rights and aggressively challenged the assumption that all Chinese dissidents reject the measure.
In advance of a House vote on Wednesday, 100 Chinese dissidents living in the United States staged a rally in front of the Capitol to dramatize their opposition to giving China permanent access to the U.S. market, a status known as normal trade relations (NTR).
“Their voices remind us of a China some are telling this Congress to forget,” Rep. David E. Bonior said. “It is a China where those who dare to speak out for freedom and democracy are, quite literally, taking their lives into their own hands.”
The Michigan Democrat, who is leading the fight in the House against permanent NTR, pressed his case as President Clinton made a rare appearance with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in the White House Rose Garden to urge passage of NTR.
“The outcome of the debate on permanent normal trade relations with China will have profound implications for the free world’s trading system and the long-term growth potential of the American economy,” Mr. Greenspan said.
Mr. Clinton expressed confidence that the House would back the White House and the Republican leadership by passing permanent NTR, but he cautioned that the votes are not there yet.
“Many members remain undecided, and we are doing everything we can to round up each and every vote,” he said.
The White House also announced that Mr. Clinton would make the case for the China deal in a brief address to the nation on Sunday.
CBS and ABC said Thursday they would not carry the speech, despite a request from the White House. NBC will air a live broadcast of the five-minute address, as will CNN.
CBS decided the speech amounted to lobbying, while ABC said it already has sufficiently covered the issue.
In addition, Reps. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican, hope to announce Friday an agreement on additional legislation that would pave the way for more members to support NTR for China. The package includes a congressional-executive human rights commission, a special mechanism to guard against massive surges in Chinese imports and a stepped-up World Trade Organization review of China’s trade policies.
Additional undecided members also will announce their decision to support permanent NTR for China at the Levin-Bereuter announcement, a House Democratic aide said.
The dissidents, who have collectively spent decades in Chinese jails, Thursday railed against the communist regime in Beijing, and also lobbied undecided members to vote against NTR. They staged a march to Mr. Levin’s office and presented him with dozens of toy horses, which they said symbolized how his legislation is a “Trojan horse” that will do little to further the cause of human rights in China.
“They’re frustrated with the fact that Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng do not have a monopoly of opinion among dissidents,” Christopher Padilla of the Business Coalition for U.S.-China Trade said in a reference to two prominent dissidents who have been actively lobbying against NTR on Capitol Hill.
Business groups, which concede that China’s record on human rights is abysmal, have been actively highlighting what they say is a split among Chinese democracy activists. In faxes to news organizations, industry has offered examples of dissidents who appear to support permanent NTR for China.
For example, it distributed a statement signed by Xie Wanjun, a New York representative of the China Democracy Party Overseas, which advocated “unconditional [permanent] NTR to China.”
Dissidents Thursday expressed outrage that business would attempt to co-opt human rights activists in the name of expanding commerce. Wang Xizhe, a co-chairman of the China Democracy Party (CDP) who fled the country, said yesterday that the party is “unconditionally against permanent NTR for communist China.”
Mr. Padilla counters with the example of Nie Minzhi, a CDP member under house arrest in Zhejiang, China. Mr. Nie, in an interview with Radio Free Asia, backed permanent NTR and urged CDP members in North American to do the same.
But Mr. Wang scoffs at any suggestion that these statements are at all sincere. “Only the few dissidents who have the same views as the Chinese government are allowed to speak out,” he said.