A Blank Check for China?

The current debate about trade with China is a perfect illustration of the double standards (and double talk) that permeate U.S. foreign policy. The Clinton administration wants to end the annual review of China’s trade status, arguing that increased business relations will improve human rights in the communist nation.

The administration, of course, makes exactly the opposite argument when it comes to Cuba, for which the U.S. government has nothing but contempt and economic sanctions, at least as long as Castro is in power and Cuban expatriates carry such weight in Florida politics (and presidential primaries).

But China is a special case, not the least because of its sheer size. The business community drools over the prospect of all those new customers. One only has to imagine the captains of industry humming their mantra—"a billion Cokes a day"—to see why U.S. business consortiums are lobbying so hard to opening China’s door to international commerce.

China currently enjoys "normal trade relations" (which used to be called "most favored nation" status) with the United States. But each year, that status comes up for congressional renewal. In one of those lovely quirks of timing, the annual review coincides with the anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, thus providing the opportunity for an annual discussion and debate centered (usually) on human rights and not just dollars-and-cents.

Human rights, unfortunately, isn’t what makes the world go ‘round. As AFL-CIO head John Sweeney said, "It is insane that under the rules governing worldwide trade today you can take action against a company for pirating a Madonna videotape, but you can take no action against a company for employing children, or using forced labor, or violating workers’ fundamental rights, or poisoning the environment."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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