June 16, 2019

How much does China care whether the United States maintains its most-favored-nation status? On Tuesday, the very day the Senate was debating whether to attach human-rights conditions to continuing the preferred-trading arrangement, China was sentencing to prison students who led the pro-democracy protests in 1989 and 1990.

For two years, President George Bush has argued that giving China most-favored-nation status, which guarantees the lowest tariff rates, would help improve living conditions in China. The MFN’s effect on China, however, has been nil at best, and has made the United States a favorite trading partner with a country that has one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

The imprisonment of the pro-democracy demonstrators is only the latest evidence. Its long-term systematic program of genocide in Tibet is the most outrageous. More than 1 million Tibetans have been killed, many through torture or starvation, since China overran that country four decades ago. Renewing its MFN status isn’t going to change Beijing policy on this. But revoking the status will signal that the United States recognizes the insanity of what China has done and will not support it.

Fortunately, the Senate approved the conditions that China release all political prisoners, halt human-rights abuses and cut arms sales for the MFN status to be continued. President Bush undoubtedly will veto the bill — more because it reverses his policies on China, on which he considers himself an expert, than because he has evidence that the trading status will change Beijing’s practices.

If China does care at all about the MFN status, it is as a symbol of approval from the United States. But after all the horrendous actions by the Chinese government, how can this country give Beijing its stamp of approval?

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