Last August, when I visited Vladivostok, the port for the Russian Pacific fleet, I saw numerous battleships lined up in the port, out of operation because the Russian government lacks the money for their upkeep. In February, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) obtained a Russian-built missile destroyer, and reports are that they will acquire a second destroyer by the year’s end. After acquiring the first destroyer, the China Business Times ran a front-page picture of the ship, with a caption that read, “The bottom line on the Taiwan question.” Currently, 2,000 Soviet military experts are working for the PLA. Are these Russian weapons and experts helping China become a more free and democratic society?
Where did the Chinese Communist government obtain the hard currency to purchase these battleships and pay the Soviet weapons experts? This is the same country that owes many of the employees in its state-owned enterprises months and months of back pay. It’s the same country that is the largest recipient of aid from the World Bank.
The money source becomes quite clear when you consider the current $70 billion trade deficit that the United States has with China. Hard currency from foreign investment and trade is allowing the Chinese government to upgrade its military. It’s that simple. Western capitalism is fueling the Chinese Communist vehicle.
But now, just before the highly contested vote on Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) in the House of Representatives, the Clinton administration trots out a new and very convenient theory: that U.S. rejection of PNTR would set off a “downward spiral” in Asia and hurt chances of a China-Taiwan dialogue. This is just the kind of argument that the Chinese Communist Party loves to hear. According to this notion, as advanced by Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, the U.S. Congress would be to blame if China were to make good on its ongoing threats and use violence to force Taiwan reunification. In essence, this theory is an unprecedented nod to Beijing blackmail: “You grant us PNTR or we’ll start making things very difficult for you in Asia.”
Beijing’s actions with respect to Taiwan, as well as in respect to its espionage activities in the United States and its continued sale of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to nations such as Iran and Pakistan, occur independently of the prospect of PNTR. Any attempts to link rejection of PNTR with the potential for increased instability in China are misguided at best and politically calculated at worst.
Irrespective of trade, the Beijing authorities are prone to stir up anti-U.S. sentiment whenever a burst of nationalism will help boost their own image among a population that is otherwise highly distrustful of its leadership. The Chinese government acts according to its own perceived national security interests and goals. Perhaps it is time that the United States did the same.
Last February, Mr. Berger addressed the Woodrow Wilson Center about PNTR and World Trade Organization (WTO) membership for China. In his speech, Mr. Berger focused on the economic benefits of the deal to various sectors of the American economy and admitted that WTO accession was not a human rights policy for China. Nor is it a national security policy. In fact, just the opposite is true: History has proven that consistent pressure, rather than constant kowtowing, is the way to achieve results with the Chinese leadership. If China receives Permanent Normal Trade Relations, the Chinese Communist leadership will be emboldened to flout international standards further.
No force on earth could return China to isolationism, and any actor in world politics would be foolish to try to isolate that nation of 1.2 billion. But we must still ask why the West has adopted a kowtow culture in its dealings with the Communist Chinese government. Our relations with China are based on the false idea that the stability of the Chinese Communist Party is necessary for successful political and economic relations with China, and for stability in Asia and international peace in general.
Certainly, having China in the WTO would be advantageous for multinational corporations. In China, U.S. companies can take advantage of a cheap and disciplined labor force. It is actually good for U.S. businesses to have a strong Communist Party because then they do not have to worry about giving workers benefits or dealing with strikes.
Every day in China, people are making demands like those made at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Whether they are dissidents who fight for freedom of speech, or farmers who are tired of corrupt local officials, there is abroad discontent among the people of China today. Listening to these people would be a way to bring about stability. It is tragic that this regime refuses to recognize the basic fact that democracy is the best way to stability. It is even more tragic that these abuses continue without any serious consequences in the international arena.
The international community must tell China clearly: We expect to see a peaceful, prosperous, free and democratic China, not a prosperous and stable Communist China. Peace and prosperity are possible only when human rights, democracy and freedom are respected.
Harry Wu is a Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner.