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Are We Serious About the Pacific Rim?

China: Permanent normal relations would benefit both trade issues and human rights.

May 21, 2000|WALTER F. MONDALE | Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale was U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993-1996

By now, we have heard many credible arguments why Congress should approve permanent normal trade relations with China: China's accession to the World Trade Organization--virtually a done deal, whether the U.S. approves normal relations--will bring China into the global trading and financial system; American businesses and investors will benefit from this huge and increasingly prosperous market; American workers can expect more good-paying jobs from expanding exports; America's farmers and ranchers can anticipate a boom in export sales.

All good arguments. Yet there are two other very compelling reasons to support normal relations.

First, I believe that this is a test of whether the United States truly considers itself an Asian-Pacific nation, whether we are committed--as citizens, not bystanders--to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asian-Pacific region. When the U.S. works with leaders of Asian-Pacific nations, we often say that America also is an Asian-Pacific nation. We are not strangers, we are a part of the region, and we understand and are sensitive to its challenges and opportunities. Our influence and power in that massive part of the world all rest on this fundamental assumption. Our credibility affects our ability to advance our national interests there on a host of issues, from our economic future to our security.

How China develops is one of the most crucial questions confronting us. We have an enormous stake in ensuring that it becomes a force for stability and peace rather than instability and threat. Serious consequences could follow from a failure to approve normal relations.

Leaders of every nation in the region, including the new president of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, strongly support the United States' granting of permanent normal trade relations to China. They too have a stake in China's development. They very much want to see improved relations between China and the U.S., and they know how important China's membership in the world trading system is to their futures. In ways that cannot yet be seen, Congress' approval of normal relations will enhance our credibility and give Asia even more reason to be confident of the good sense and leadership the U.S. provides. Failure to approve the measure could be devastating to the U.S.-China relationship, to our stature among Asian nations and to the stability of a historically unstable region.

The second compelling argument for normal relations has been expressed by one of the best ambassadors we have ever sent to China, former United Auto Workers President Leonard Woodcock. Normal relations, he said, "will expose Chinese workers to more ideas about organization and rights. [It's] one reason why almost every Chinese political dissident who has spoken out on this issue has called the agreement good news for freedom in China." Integration into the global marketplace of goods and investment cannot but help integrate China into the marketplace of ideas as well and help steer China's political development toward a more hopeful course.

As one who has been privileged to represent our nation to one of our crucial Asian allies, Japan, I hope we approach this issue with courage, good sense and the understanding of a true Asian-Pacific nation and approve permanent normal trade relations with China.

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