- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

As remarkably agile as the People's Republic of China has been during the past decade in eschewing moral condemnation for its renegade human rights policies and its contemptuous disregard for the rule of law violating with impunity both the spirit and letter of every human rights covenant held in high regard by the family of nations this year, of all years, it may have been too clever by half.

As it once again deftly deflected a good-faith effort by the U.S. State Department to pass a resolution denouncing China's deplorable human rights record, lobbying successfully in support of a procedural "no-action motion," China may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by blunting U.N. criticism of its rising tidal wave of human rights oppression, which when viewed objectively rivals the darkest days of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Why? Because Beijing's Pyrrhic victory will almost certainly lead to a stinging defeat for its decade-long bid to secure its most coveted strategic prize its millennial entrance into the World Trade Organization. By doing what China does best, muting criticism, both inside and outside China, of its wanton human rights record, it has inadvertently shifted the terms of the current debate roaring on Capitol Hill over the wisdom of granting China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), and thereby terminating Washington's annual review of human rights abuses in China tied to a grant of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. Ironically, as a result of the law of unintended consequences, China's big win in Geneva has fatally undermined one of the Clinton administration's key strategic arguments for why, on the one hand, it could willy-nilly end the annual congressional review of human rights in China, while endorsing an escalation of China trade which serves, among other things, to prop up a flagging totalitarian regime while on the other hand claiming that it was capable of exerting considerable political and moral pressure on Beijing before the watchful eyes of the world to improve its calamitous human rights records. So much for plans well-laid.

With the United Nations Human Rights Commission now relegated to the status of a Trojan horse, incapable of even remotely addressing widespread human rights violations in China that even a schoolchild would have the good sense to roundly condemn, Mr. Clinton stands on the world stage like a schoolmaster without a paddle. In other words, only the annual MFN debate in Congress remains as a potent forum in which to decry China's brutal regime. It may not be much, but if Americans care about the human rights conduct of nations which they do it is everything.

(Rep. Sander Levin's proposed "parallel legislation" to PNTR which would create a so-called China Commission to monitor human rights, labor market issues, and encourage the development of the rule of law and democracy-building in China, would only be a pale shadow of what the current annual review of MFN for China provides a vibrant and hugely visible forum in which to examine China's deplorable human rights record, certifiably linked to the possibility of profound economic consequences.)

Of course, Mr. Clinton only has himself to blame. One of the main reasons why the 53-member U.N. Commission turned its back on the moral arguments put forward by the State Department on behalf of the U.S.-sponsored resolution was this policy is deeply hypocritical. A high-ranking member of the Nigerian delegation in Geneva was unreserved in his contempt for Mr. Clinton's policy, stating that Mr. Clinton sought trade with China while asking other nations to risk the wrath of China's fury in the form of economic retaliation if they voted against it. In other words, if America wasn't willing to pay a price to hold China to account for its policies, why should anyone else? One has only to look at the vacant co-sponsor list to appreciate this unanimous perspective. This year, not even Poland signed up with the United Sates, as it did last year. And it was rumored that while the European nations would support a "no" vote on the "no-action motion," they would not support the resolution itself.

Why should France jeopardize its nice $2.5 billion Airbus contract with China, when Mr. Clinton, the Senate and nearly half of Congress, to say nothing of the entire business community and the Republican leadership, are falling all over themselves to push through PNTR? According to recent national polls, only the American people, it seems, remain constant in their opinion that moral considerations based on principle enjoy a higher value than the advancement of mercantile interests.

Back in January, when the Clinton administration announced its intention to lobby long and hard for the passage of a resolution against China in Geneva, it appeared as though it had in hand the perfect ploy: Round up at least a sufficient number of votes to overcome China's inevitable "no-action motion," claim a moral victory which would enhance the reputation of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights as a world-class forum to bash China in, and then argue that there was no need for redundancy with the annual MFN debate. Mr. Clinton would ease China into the WTO and cinch a place in history.

But China confounded the strategy. In one fell swoop it managed to discredit the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, perhaps beyond repair, while simultaneously sabotaging any chance of convincing a majority of the House of Representatives that its human rights record can be adequately reviewed anywhere but in Congress.

Sometimes it's a wonderful world, this world of unintended consequences. Sometimes, even the oppressed manage to squeak out a victory.

Timothy Cooper is director of the Free China Movement and ambassador-at-large for the China Democracy Party.

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