Here we go again. It's June, and it's time to beat up on China - and not a few Americans, in the process.
The issue: whether it is in our interest to treat China by the same rules we use for virtually all other nations - not preferences, just the same, clear enforceable rules.The legal term for this is most favored nations (MFN) treatment, which we routinely grant to nations with which we do business. Should we continue to do so with China, or should we cast them out? That is the issue, and it is important.
It is also subject to massive misunderstanding, and huge emotions, for good reason. China is not an open economy, it has no system of popular representation, and it has a poor environmental record, much less human rights.
So the question is twofold: First, is it in our national interest to cut off trade, both ways, with China, and second, is it possible for any U.S. policy to help the cause of peace, stability and, ultimately, freedom, in the most populous nation in the world?
Who gets hurt if we cut off trade? American workers, 170,000 strong, whose jobs directly relate to sales to China; Hong Kong, whose future is directly impacted by the actions we take regarding China; Taiwan, whose moves to democratic self-governance are the best possible example for a mainland still too insecure to trust its own public; China itself, of course, and its burgeoning economic regions in the south in particular; and finally, U.S. interests, economic opportunities, and leadership throughout Asia.
Every Pacific nation is watching this debate with apprehension. The last thing Asia wants to see is a conflict between the United States and China. All know how much they have to lose in the instabilities such a contest could cause.
Second, regarding the moral question of human rights, is it really logical to think that more human pain, more poverty, more economic hardship will force the Chinese authorities to accept American values all the more quickly?
I believe the evidence of this century points entirely in the opposite direction. Economic freedom is a necessary partner to political freedom. The more we urge China to play by the rules, and benefit therefrom, the more we enhance the prospect of political stability and, ultimately, meaningful reform.
One final point. Opponents of extending for an additional year MFN to China point to Chinese abuse of our intellectual property. They are right to do so, but they are wrong to leave the impression that our government is doing nothing about the problem.
Sanctions have been announced - $2 billion worth of pain. I have no doubt they will be imposed if no agreement is reached in the next couple of weeks.
Patience, understanding and leadership, and unswerving resolve to hold both ourselves and China to a rule of reason, can yield more than the obvious economic benefits of more growth - a healthy and productive relationship as well.
Treating China like virtually every other nation in the world by extending MFN status is a necessary first step in that long march.