The West must be careful to avoid spurious parallels between China and the Soviet Union.
That it might do so is probably one reason that Mikhail Gorbachev has been watching events in Beijing with his heart in his mouth. He not only must worry that his own country may experience a similarly difficult popular uprising, but also that Western outrage over the Chinese government's brutal crackdown will spill over onto his own brand of communism, prolonging Western distrust of his reform program and endangering the chances of negotiating economic aid from Europe and the United States.
On the basis of its reforms, China received many economic benefits from the West: observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), sales of technological equipment including military weapons and millions of dollars from more than 7,800 joint ventures established with U.S. firms.
Gorbachev wants and needs similar economic boons. Items on the Soviet wish list include manufacturing and agricultural equipment, preferential treatment for Soviet exports and a trade agreement with the United States.
The Bush Administration is currently considering easing trade restrictions on Moscow, actions that could include repealing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment that ties most-favored-nation status to levels of Jewish emigration, and lifting the Stevenson Amendment that sets a limit of $300 million on Soviet borrowing in the United States. Meanwhile, thousands of businesses are considering joint-venture arrangements with Soviet firms.
In that process, Washington should bear in mind that in deciding to reward China's economic liberalization, it held the Chinese to significantly lower standards than it set for the Soviets. The U.S. government did not require a particular level of emigration, for instance, or any promises whatsoever in the area of human rights. It did not demand that political reform accompany economic reform.
This does not mean that Washington should excuse Soviet human rights abuses. On the contrary, the government should ensure that any policy changes clearly serve U.S. interests and promote universal values including free emigration. Likewise, all business deals with the Soviets should be prudent, based on solid commercial interests, not ethereal good will.
China's betrayal of political freedoms does not portend a similar betrayal by Moscow. Domestic unrest may yet force Gorbachev to an unconscionable crackdown, but until then he should be judged on his own successes and failures, not China's.