Say yes to PNTR status with China

By Jack Kemp

Copley News Service

Congress soon must answer two questions: One, would the United States be better off economically if we refused to grant China Permanent Normal Trade Relations status? Two, would human rights in China be advanced by turning down PNTR?

Without a doubt, American consumers, exporters and their employees all would be much better off with China as a permanent normal trading partner. Except in the minds of a few die-hard protectionists, not much doubt remains for the vast majority of Americans that free trade benefits both trading partners.

People understand that any short-term, localized disruptions that might arise from trade-opening practices, such as business failures and lost jobs, are temporary and relatively small compared to the benefits free trade confers. And to the extent that disruptions do result and inflict real damage on people, they are best addressed through narrowly targeted legislation designed specifically to compensate those harmed by the transition to global free trade.

Ultimately, all American workers and businesses benefit as the gains from trade permit us to concentrate on our comparative advantages, which means replacing low-end, low-wage jobs with high-value, high-wage jobs. History demonstrates that free trade raises a nation's standard of living and advances the cause of freedom.

But some Americans are reticent to grant China PNTR because they feel the benefits would come at the expense of the Chinese people. The real question, then, is the second one posed above: Will China be more likely to democratize and improve its human rights record if it is admitted to the world trading community on equal terms and required to play by the rules?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. The truth liberates, and the free flow of commerce and information that would come with trade normalization would do more than anything else to expose the Chinese people to the fruits of freedom and the concepts of democracy and individual rights.

Withholding PNTR not only will fail to force the Chinese Communist Party to acquiesce to our wishes on democracy, human rights and religious freedom, it would actually strengthen the resolve of the hard-line communist faction within the country that wants nothing more than to keep China out of the World Trade Organization and quarantined from exposure to corrupting democratic notions such as freedom and individual rights.

But what about Taiwan? Historically, the basis of America's support for Taiwan has been its successful progress toward democracy, free markets and human rights. Would opening up normal trade relations with the mainland

undercut Taiwan? To the contrary, increased commercial ties would decrease the likelihood of armed conflict between the mainland and Taiwan. Taiwan already has more than $40 billion in capital invested in the mainland. That investment, combined with increased commercial ties between the mainland and the United States, creates a powerful disincentive for the regime in Beijing to use military force against Taiwan.

The great virtue of free trade and open markets is their therapeutic power to pulverize all vestiges of special privilege in a society. Therefore, withholding an open trading relationship from a Communist nation whose rulers retain the ultimate special privilege, totalitarian control over the populous, is like withholding radiation therapy from a cancer patient until he first purges himself of the tumors that beset him.

Ultimately, the question of PNTR for China boils down to a question of morality: Are we justified in benefiting from an open commercial relationship with a country like China that oppresses its citizens when the alternative - refusing efforts to maximize contact with them - hurts not only our own citizens but the Chinese people even more? It is a misconception to believe we must hurt ourselves to help another people. As President Clinton has said, granting China PNTR is clearly in our larger national interest. It will advance the goals America has worked for in China for the past three decades.

The glorious thing about freedom is that wherever it is practiced, it spreads and multiplies, and practicing open trade by a set of agreed-upon rules is practicing freedom. The morally dubious course would be for us to deny our people the benefits of free trade with China and in the process deny the Chinese people an opportunity to practice more freedom, which would leave them not only oppressed but also poor. If we deny normalized trade status to China today, we will be partly responsible for delaying further the day that China will be free and prosperous.

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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