- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Now that we have our people back from the Chinese, one of the most talked about questions being raised throughout Washington (and soon to be voted on in Congress) is whether to make China a permanent U.S. trading partner. For those who have concluded that China irrevocably means to be our military enemy, the answer is simple: To contain China and limit her power, we must deny her (as well as ourselves) the benefit of our trade. For others who correctly judge China to be an immoral, totalitarian, religion-persecuting, abortion-forcing malignancy in the family of nations, the only moral response is denial of trade relations.
But the majority of congressmen and senators, while repulsed by Chinas domestic policies and suspicious of Chinas strategic intentions, are inclined to make their decisions on the basis of the practical interests of the United States. They will be trying to clarify in their minds the ambiguities of practical policy, rather than morality.
The advocates of permanent trade relations will put to the undecided twin arguments: Trade is good for American business and jobs; and, the more the United States and China trade with each other, the less likely we are to become enemies.
Except for die-hard trade union protectionists, long-proven principles of free trade have demonstrated the economic benefit to both countries who trade with each other, even if the balance of trade is unequal. If the Chinese are willing to sell us a pair of shoes for one piece of green paper with George Washington on it that would cost us $20 to make, American consumers profit. Of course, the trade unionists are right, too. American shoe workers will lose their jobs and have to find another line of work (but the net increase of wealth to America will create more jobs than will be lost).
But it is the second argument in favor of trade relations that deserves closer scrutiny. The second argument for trade is strategic, not commercial. It makes the seemingly obvious point that countries that are prospering by their commercial relations are not likely to disrupt such prosperity to make war.
This argument also assumes that increased economic activity requires more economic freedom in China, which will lead to more political freedom in China. The third piece of the argument, unstated but implicit, is the arrogant Western assumption that as they get to know us and our ways better through mutual economic intercourse, they will inevitably come to admire and copy our ways.
None of these points are demonstrably true. At best they are suppositions. But they provide the undecided congressman with the warm, hazy, justifying sense that Americas pursuit of a buck (a good thing) also can be claimed to serve the more noble goal of our long-term strategic interest. In fact, much of history suggests that not only does trade not provide a path to peace, but that its golden shimmer blinds a nations eyes to the danger of war.
Just before the outbreak of World War I, Britain was swept away with the belief that the extensive trade relations between the great powers made war unthinkable. Norman Angells huge 1910 British best-seller, "The Great Illusion," which argued against increased defense spending, caught the mood of the time: "International finance has become so interdependent and interwoven with trade and industry that political and military power can in reality do nothing."
Unfortunately, Germany wanted the status of a global power more than it wanted continued prosperity. Ten million European young men and a quarter million Americans died because their leaders assumed, right to the last day of peace, that war was unthinkable in a time of such interconnected prosperity. Nor, by the way, did years of German prosperity before the war lead to an increase in democratic processes.
Again, less than a year before the outbreak of World War II, and after Hitler had taken the Rhineland, Austria and most of Czechoslovakia, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain instructed the governor of the Bank of England to offer the Bank of Berlin extensive low interest loans that would encourage the opening of the German economy. Where trade would flow freely across borders, Chamberlain hoped, the Wehrmacht would not. World War II followed with 50 million dead. Other obvious examples where intimate trade relations did not deter war include our own Revolutionary War against England and our own Civil War.
All of these examples of trades failure involved nations and people who were culturally, historically and ethnically close. Why should we assume, as a basis for strategic policy, that such relations between us and culturally distant China would succeed where it has so often failed under more hopeful circumstances?
The foregoing is not an argument against normal trade relations with China. It is intended as a Scotch verdict on the utility of trade as a path to peace: Not proven.
E-mail: [email protected]


Tony Blankleys column for The Washington Times appears on Wednesdays.

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