Why Should China Get Trading Privileges?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – May 6, 1996

This fight, said Sen. Bob Dole after New Hampshire, “is for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” Fair enough. But soon we shall see whether the GOP still has a soul.

President Clinton intends to renew “most favored nation” trading privileges (MFN) to China, granting Beijing the same access to U.S. markets that we grant to Great Britain.

But how, in the name of moral consistency can we accept such an equivalence? Did not George Bush embargo and invade Panama and Clinton blockade and invade Haiti for crimes against decency that are pallid beside those of Beijing? Does our lust for trade exceed our loathing of tyranny?

But trade is a bridge to peace, we are told; why tear it down? And, if we deny MFN to China, America’s exporters and farmers may lose out on the world’s greatest market.

But if trade truly promotes peace and understanding, how do we explain the conduct of Beijing since the last extension of MFN?

Since then, religious persecution and ethnic cleaning in Tibet have proceeded apace; more Christians are in prison in China than any other country. When Washington raises a timid voice for some persecuted dissident, that dissident is singled out for reprisal. Under China’s one-child-per-couple policy, pregnant women are forced to undergo abortions and and sterilizations. China today is a human rights hellhole.

Moreover, since MFN was last extended, China sold nuclear technology to Pakistan and sent missiles to rogue nations. China has invaded the Spratleys, threatened war on Taiwan and fired missiles at its ports, dealt contemptuously with Hong Kong’s elected council and warned the United States to keep its warships out of the Taiwan Straits — presumably now an internal waterway of the Middle Kingdom.

We ought not to seek confrontation with China. But Beijing’s conduct has been calculatedly insulting. America has valid cause to impose an embargo. Lifting MFN, then, is not a radical step: It is a reasoned response to China’s affronts. Self-respect commands it.

And if a few trade contracts are torn up, what exactly is lost?

In 1955 we sold $11 billion in goods to China. China sold us $46 billion. Total sales to China amount to one-fifth of one percent of U.S. gross national product. And China’s biggest purchases from us? Fertilizers, cereals, cotton, animal and vegetable fats, wood, fibers, rawhides and skins. (This is what George III used to order up from his 13 colonies.)

Only aircraft made the top eight U.S. exports. But, when China buys Boeing or McDonnell-Douglas jets, it demands a transfer of U.S. technology and that the planes be built, in part, in China.

What are China’s main exports to us? Electrical machinery, toys, sporting goods, shoes, apparel, clothing, leather goods, furniture, nuclear reactors and boilers, plastics, and optical and photographic equipment. Corporate America, dreaming of some mythical market of a billion Chinese, should wake up and smell the coffee. Using tariffs to keep out U.S. goods, while importing factories and equipment to build an Asian industrial powerhouse, China is building an awesome market for her own manufacturers, not for America’s.

In five years China has amassed a cumulative surplus, from U.S. trade alone, of $117 billion. Income from sales of China’s offshore satellite factories and of pirated U.S. intellectual property, adds billions more. Add U.S.-backed World Bank, Asian Development Bank and IMF loans, and the United States is collaborating in building up what may be the greatest rogue nation of the 21st century. We are feeding a giant that may yet prove a monster.

A regime that uses slave labor, bullies neighbors, brutalizes minorities and sterilizes weeping women is not one we ought to be doing normal business with. “Strategic engagement,” has failed; it is time that the Grand Old Party put principle before profit.

Too often, we have had to wipe off our faces the spittle of the arrogant men in Beijing. And as our “statesmen” rummage about for a face-saving way to extend MFN, the world may fairly conclude we have become the “paper tiger” of Chairman Mao’s depiction.

Let America be America again.

If Dole will lead the fight against MFN, he may dismay corporate America, but he will astonish critics and find himself heading a great coalition of conservatives, economic populists, pro-life activists and human rights Democrats.

Seeing Dole seize the high ground, Clinton, I believe, would hastily yield or surely lose. Cancellation of MFN is common ground where we might all stand together and fight.