Washington, 11 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says that normal trade relations with China are worth thousands of millions of dollars to the American economy, but that it is not the most important reason to keep China's MFN status.
"Severing normal trade relations is such an extreme step," she told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday, "that it would slam into reverse the current trend toward greater engagement with China and propel us downhill towards hostility and confrontation."
President Bill Clinton has already approved extension of MFN, or Most-Favored-Nation, trade status to China for another year, but some members of congress are pushing to have the House and Senate cancel it. Under U.S. law they have 60 session days to pass legislation of disapproval or MFN -- normal trade -- stands for the year.
Opposition to MFN for China has grown in recent months in the U.S. Congress, encouraged by a coalition of conservative Republicans long opposed to normal trade with any nation which violates basic human rights, and several conservative Christian groups which accuse China of religious persecution.
The Wall Street Journal reports that this coalition, drawn together by former Vice President Dan Quayle's top aid, William Kristol, has succeeded in shifting several key House Republican committee chairmen against continued MFN for China. The Journal says much of the opposition arises from "simple anger over a perception that China's curb on human rights and promotion of abortion have simply gotten worse even as economic ties with the U.S. deepen."
Albright addressed the issue directly, saying the political leverage the U.S. has to convince Beijing to change its human rights and other policies comes from being fully engaged. "Although China has not evolved as thoroughly or as rapidly as all of us would hope," she told the committee, "the overall trend is in the right direction: towards greater interaction with the world community and greater acceptance of international norms."
Albright add that "engagement does NOT mean endorsement." She told the committee the U.S. does not need to "take the drastic step of ending normal trade relations to demonstrate our concern about specific chinese policies -- we do that now."
Washington has not hesitated to impose trade sanctions against Chinese companies which sold chemical weapons-related materials to Iran, she said, or even use naval power to "reinforce America's commitment to a peaceful solution of differences between Beijing and Taipei."
However, Albright warned, these and other difficult situations could become dangerous if the U.S. cuts off normal trade ties.
"We might see a renewal of tension in the Taiwan Strait," she said. "Our efforts to encourage greater restraint on China's arms and arms-related exports would be frustrated," she said. The likelihood of "further constructive Chinese actions toward the Korean peninsula, where 37,000 American troops are deployed, would diminish."
Economically, said Albright, revoking MFN would "invite retaliation" against U.S. exports to China, which provide 170,000 jobs in the U.S., and would add 500,000 million dollars to the cost of products Americans import. As importantly, she said, it would "cut the legs out from under" the free market economy of Hong Kong, which reverts to China July 1st.
And on human rights, said Albright, "it would likely reduce U.S. influence even further." She said that is why a number of groups now conducting religious outreach programs in China support continued MFN.
Independently, more than 100 Christian missionary groups working in China -- under the banner of the China Service Co-ordination Office -- said the "well-intentioned" opposition could "hamper the efforts of Christians from outside China who have spent years seeking an effective witness among the Chinese."