China's trade status discussed

by Tom O'Shea | 5/9/94 5:00am

The future of China's Most Favored Nation status was one of the main topics explored Friday at a panel discussion on "Building Democracy: Tiananmen and Human Rights," which closed out the successful "Future of Democracy in China" conference.

On June 3, President Bill Clinton will make a difficult decision -- whether to continue or terminate China's status as a Most Favored Nation. The decision is contingent on the country's improvement of human rights.

The status represents the highest level of trade between two countries by automatically extending the most favorable trade agreement between the United States and that country.

A decision to withdraw the Most Favored Nation status could mean the loss of a major world market and could endanger the stability of East Asia, according to an article distributed at the discussion.

The discussion was moderated by Nelson A. Rockefeller Center Director George Demko and included panelists Jonathan Mirsky, East Asian Editor of The London Times ; Bruce Reynolds, economics professor at Union College and Cornell University; Andrew Nathan, political science professor at Columbia University; and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, history professor at Indiana University.

In their opening statements, the panelists explored China's human rights arena. They agreed that the status is no longer a useful tool to threaten China into a more humane system of governing, since there is little chance the United States will take away China's Most Favored Nation status.

"The more the Chinese government realizes that under no circumstances will MFN be canceled, the less incentive they have to meet our conditions," Nathan said. But, he added, the United States can use other means to pressure the Chinese government into becoming more conscious of human rights.

Reynolds provided the most controversial argument of the afternoon. "Is it not conceivable that our cultural values, in particular the elevation of the ideal of individual self-fulfillment, reflect in part the enormous resources that were available to our ancestors? China had no such luxury," he said.

Reynolds said he resisted the premise of the "Future of Democracy in China" because he sees democracy and the values associated with it as intrinsic to the American culture, and not necessarily shared elsewhere in the world.

China's authoritarian government should be tolerated because it has provided economic stability and growth, Reynolds said. "Economic deprivation works a violence on the human spirit that is as destructive in its way as physical violence. It is not clear to me that the latter is more immoral than the former," he said.

Mirsky disagreed with Reynolds that the United States should simply tolerate the human rights situation in China.

"I really don't think this is Western arrogance -- we wouldn't think that about South Africa or about some other monstrous regime. I think we really have to think about bringing it down," he said.

Though the threat of losing Most Favored Nation status is no longer effective, Mirsky said "a very good tool when dealing with the Chinese is shame. Make them feel ashamed of what they do."

Reynolds answered that the United States has no right to interfere with the Chinese regime. "Unlike Jonathan [Mirsky], I don't feel so secure that we should or could try to push the current regime over." Reynolds said when he looks at East Asia, he sees the economic growth. "This leads me to feel differently about authoritarianism."

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