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Western Press Review: China Trade Draws Western Commentators' Spotlight

  • Don Hill

Prague, 26 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press commentary today focuses on the U.S. Congress support of President Bill Clinton's call for normal trade relations with China.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Normal trade relations with China is a victory for good sense

An editorial in the British economic newspaper Financial Times says the development is simple good sense. The newspaper says this: "The U.S. House of Representatives' approval of permanent normal trade relations with China is a victory for good sense. It [does] not only guarantee U.S. business the benefits of sweeping liberalization that China has pledged on joining the World Trade Organization. The vote also signals a firm rejection of protectionist lobbying by labor unions and other groups opposed to approval. Bill Clinton deserves credit for the outcome."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The biggest short-term winner will be Hong Kong

The Los Angeles Times carries a commentary by staff writer Mark Magnier assessing the impact of China's trade on the rest of Asia. He writes that Taiwan and Hong Kong will be winners, but that Hong Kong's gain may be short-lived. In Magnier's words: "The biggest short-term winner from [China's entry into the WTO] will be Hong Kong. Further liberalization in China will boost the demand for its legal, accounting, design, financial and consulting services while growing trade volumes should spur its shipping and logistics business. Paradoxically, however, a more open Chinese market will, over the longer term, diminish Hong Kong's relative importance as China opens up and develops many of these industries itself."

Magnier writes: "Also high in the victory column will be Taiwan. At the most basic level, China's entry will pave the way for Taiwan's own entry, long delayed on political grounds. Membership for Taipei will expand its access to global markets, including mainland China's, and provide some security that Beijing cannot turn around during a political crisis and nationalize its substantial mainland investments."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The China trade bill highlights the failure of the anti-trade forces in the U.S.

The business-oriented editorialists of the Wall Street Journal Europe contend that Congess's action demonstrates that the day is gone when U.S. labor could dictate foreign policy like a Chinese emperor of old. As a Journal editorial puts it: "Time was when Chinese emperors would end their edicts with the admonition 'tremble and obey.' Time was, too, when an American labor boss might speak with similar expectations. Yet in the end the much-contested China trade bill passed handily, [highlighting the] failure of the anti-trade forces in the U.S. to derail the vote on China -- despite threats of union-backed challenges in their next primaries."

IRISH TIMES: Opening trade with China is a triumph for Clinton

Opening trade with China, says an Irish Times editorial, is a triumph for Clinton and an opportunity for the world. The editorial says this: "The vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to normalize trade relations with China is an important milestone in the move to bring the world's most populous country more fully into the international economic system. It is also an important victory for the U.S. president, Mr. Clinton, who had to rely on Republican support in a vote which is a landmark in terms of U.S. relations with China." The Irish Times editorial concludes: "If it continues in a genuine effort to open its markets, then China deserves the support of the international community in its efforts to open up and modernize its economy."

TIMES: The congressional vote has been the mother of all trade battles

For the editors of The Times, London, the reluctance of some U.S. elements to follow Clinton's China lead seems strange, considering how much the United States gains. As a Times' editorial puts it: "For all parties, Wednesday's key congressional vote to grant China permanent normal trade relations with the United States has been the mother of all trade battles, arousing passions even greater than were generated seven years ago in the national debate on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. To foreign observers, this may seem odd. For America stands to gain most from this landmark bill [partly because], in return, the United States has offered no trade concessions."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The world now may learn whether capitalism can moderate an authoritarian nation's internal policies

But, as a Christian Science Monitor commentary points out, a China promise is not necessarily a China deed. Writing from Washington, staff writer Peter Grier says: "Wednesday's House vote to approve permanent normal trade status for Beijing won't end U.S. complaints about Chinese government behavior. Getting a divided China to live up to free-trade promises is likely to require constant pressure -- and discussions about human rights are sure to continue. The world [now may] learn whether the forces of 21st-century capitalism can moderate an authoritarian nation's internal policies, where 10 years of jawboning largely could not."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The only sensible path for the United States was the one that was followed

The U.S. China decision was, first of all, the right one, says the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper is located in the U.S. Midwest, where the trade bill's loudest opponents -- U.S. organized labor -- have their main headquarters. As a Chicago Tribune editorial puts it: "After weeks of sound and fury, the House of Representatives did the right thing for America."

The editorial continues: "For all the hand-wringing by organized labor and all the legitimate concerns over China's human rights record, the only sensible path for the United States was the one that was followed Wednesday: to approve [normalized trade] with the Communist giant and continue to use freer trade as a powerful lever for engaging China. Organized labor was worried about losing jobs, but in the long run, opening up a market of 1.2 billion people to more U.S. products ultimately will create more American jobs and will benefit Chinese laborers as well."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The China trade vote gives President Clinton a kind of term's end legacy

One Los Angeles Times commentator observes that the China trade vote gives President Clinton a kind of term's end legacy that eluded President Woodrow Wilson. In the words of Lost Angeles Times writer James Gerstenzang, "As his White House years were ending, Woodrow Wilson's presidential legacy was sealed with the failure of his visionary proposal to place the United States in the League of Nations. President Clinton's success in gaining House approval of his China trade legislation, while not on a par with Wilson's campaign, spares him a similar fate."