On May 2, 61 members of Congress joined me as original co-sponsors of a bill to condition renewal of China's most favored nation (MFN) status on an improvement in human rights conditions there.
MFN is a privilege that entitles a country to the lowest tariffs on its exports to the United States. By law, we are not allowed to extend MFN to a country with a centralized economy - a communist system. However, the president has the power to waive the law as President Bush has done with China.During the 1980s, privatization was encouraged by the Chinese government, special economic zones were established and central government control over microeconomic decisionmaking was relaxed.
At the same time, educational exchanges with the West became more common and Western political thought found its way into Chinese universities. This put pressure on the regime to accept political, as well as economic reform.
Following the Tiananmen Square tragedy on June 4, 1989, Beijing moved to dismantle many of the economic reforms of the 1980s. It froze bank lending to most private industries; it recentralized foreign trade, production planning, material allocation and pricing; it forced privatized firms to accept party members on their boards.
Despite this retrenchment, the president continued to waive U.S. law and grant MFN to China.
Since the brutal massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, the preferential trade treatment for China has attracted much closer scrutiny in Congress and in the country.
What we now see in the spotlight is not a pretty sight. We see shocking documentation of the use of prison labor on products destined for export to the United States, Germany and Japan. Our own laws prohibit goods made in forced labor camps from entering our markets.
We see that China has sold nuclear weapons technology to Algeria and missile technology to Pakistan. A law passed by Congress during the Persian Gulf crisis calls for sanctions on countries that knowingly export equipment that contributes to the "design, development or production of missiles" to any country that has not signed the non-proliferation treaty.
We see the United States experiencing a trade deficit with China that is projected to be $15 billion for this year, second only to Japan.
In regard to human rights, we see the continued repression of the pro-democracy advocates who are sentenced to long prison terms or are incarcerated without trials. We also see an ongoing genocide and brutal repression of the Tibetan people - a tragedy that no longer can be ignored by people of conscience throughout the world.
I believe we must send a clearer signal to China. My bill conditions the renewal of MFN on the release and an accounting of the political prisoners of China and Tibet; a full accounting of those killed or imprisoned during the Tiananmen Square massacre; adherence to the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and significant progress in several areas such as freedom of speech and press.
I am advocating a conditional renewal because I believe it could work. The Chinese government will be reluctant to give up its huge share of the U.S. market. The authorities in Beijing may not like capitalism, but they love money and they need hard currency. Therefore, they may be willing to make some human rights concessions.
(Rep. Pelosi, D-Calif., is chairwoman of the Congressional Working Group on China.)