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Why I Oppose Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China

May 23, 2000

Congress will soon vote on permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China. This debate has led me to reflect on our history.

Over the past 200 years, America has stood for many cherished principles. We began by standing fast against tyranny. Our constitution balanced majority rule with concern for individual liberty. We faltered on slavery and women's suffrage, but in time, stood proudly behind equal rights for all.

As the economy grew, industrialization enhanced wealth yet polluted the environment. Eventually, we regulated the worst excesses of the market, fashioned a social safety net, and began to protect our ravaged environment. We struggled, too, with isolationism but eventually stood for freedom during two World Wars and the Cold War.

I believe that America is again at a crossroads. We are all asking: How will the global economy affect our future? Can our actions foster freedom and prosperity beyond our borders? Will prosperity be shared by all or hoarded by the wealthy and powerful? As a Congressman, I am required to cast votes that offer partial answers to such questions.

I oppose Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. China is a great civilization, and I support engagement with it. I am not an isolationist or protectionist, as those who share my convictions in this matter are often caricatured. I do not propose to sever economic or diplomatic relations with China. Many Americans do not realize that China already ranks as our 4th largest trading partner, with $80 billion in trade last year. Nonetheless, this is not the moment to expand those ties or to remove them from yearly Congressional scrutiny. I object to PNTR because China threatens our national security and fails to respect human rights.

Let's start with National Security concerns. Four of the top five U.S exports to China are office, industrial, and electrical equipment, including computers, airplanes and aviation parts. Virtually all are "dual use" items, available for both civilian and military purposes. In 1997, the Pentagon determined that "technology transfers" from an American firm had made Chinese nuclear missiles significantly more accurate. Furthermore, China fosters nuclear proliferation with aid to Pakistan and assists rogue states, including Iran, with weapons of mass destruction. It occupies Tibet and threatens Taiwan. It cannot be in our national security interest to turn a blind eye to this record. If the past is truly prologue to the future, PNTR for China could make the world a more dangerous place.

As for human rights, some supporters of PNTR claim that economic development inevitably leads to democracy and respect for human rights. The histories of Germany and Japan, both industrial and commercial giants prior to 1945, offer little support for this point of view. More modest boosters hope that WTO membership will encourage "transparency," concern for the global environment, and respect for the rule of law. They hope, too, that international monitoring will protect intellectual property and eliminate or humanize prison labor. Let's look at the last example.

Since 1890, United States law has expressly forbidden importation of goods produced by forced labor. We signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with China in 1992, banning such products. Since that time, U.S. Customs has repeatedly requested to visit Chinese factories and penal facilities. According to the US State Department's 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices , the Ministry of Justice has never even replied to these requests.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that China's current government will submit to international monitoring or dispute resolution. China jails dissidents, bans independent unions, persecutes religious minorities, and threatens our allies. It is not isolationism or protectionism to withhold economic benefits. It's my job as a member of Congress to defend our interests and uphold our principles.

Last month, the Clinton Administration issued a study purporting to show how PNTR would benefit each state, including Massachusetts. Last week, the Economic Policy Institute published an equally detailed report projecting the number of jobs that would be lost in each state, including Massachusetts, if PNTR passes. The economic impact of PNTR remains very much in debate.

Regardless of whose numbers we accept, I believe that America must stand for more than "the almighty buck". We stand for liberty and justice for all, and we must remain a shining beacon of hope for all people. We must also face a dangerous world with realism and prudence. Nothing in recent Chinese domestic or foreign policy convinces me to support PNTR. If China adopts policies that respect human rights and promote peace, I will welcome closer relations.