Loss of MFN ‘would affect human rights cause in China’

A DECISION by the Clinton administration to terminate Beijing’s Most Favoured Nation trading status would undermine rather than advance the cause of human rights in China, former US Congressman Stephen Solarz said yesterday.

Describing such a move as “counter-productive”, he said it would constitute a serious setback to China’s coastal provinces. He was speaking at a public lecture organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

He said the provinces benefited most from the MFN status in terms of exports to the US, adding that they were likely to be the engine of growth and political reform in China.

“Weakening the coastal provinces is not in the interest of those who would like to see, over the longer term, greater respect for human rights and greater opportunities for political participation in government,” he said.

China’s MFN trading status will be up for renewal in June. He said it was in China’s interests to maintain the MFN status, as the US was Beijing’s largest trading partner.

The loss of trading benefits would be a serious blow to China’s aim of maintaining a high economic growth rate.

The former chairman of the US sub-committee on Asian and Pacific Affairs said Beijing could help itself by meeting the terms of President Bill Clinton’s executive order.

The decree linked a renewal of China’s trading status with an improvement in its human rights record.

Said Mr Solarz: “Unless some political prisoners are released and unless pressures on Tibet are relaxed, it would not be possible for President Clinton to continue MFN status for another year.”

But he warned that China might not take necessary steps to justify a renewal of its trading benefits. “No Chinese leader would want to be seen as kow-towing to the US, particularly when a succession struggle in Beijing was in the offing,” he told diplomats and academics at the talk.

A termination of China’s MFN status would not only damage Beijing’s economy but the region’s security could also be affected.

China’s cooperation was necessary if the UN Security Council called for sanctions against North Korea. Pyongyang has refused specialist inspections on its nuclear sites.

He warned that North Korea’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons posed the most serious threat to regional security. Pyongyang could use it as an “insurance policy” against the possibility of a military defeat.

As a consequence, Tokyo and Seoul would also be pressured to go nuclear themselves.

Besides supporting sanctions against North Korea, China could also play a crucial role in its implementation.

He said Pyongyang received 50 per cent of its petroleum from Beijing. If China were to cut this supply, and other countries followed suit, North Korea’s industrial economy would collapse. For strategic reasons, it would be unwise not to renew China’s MFN status, he said. “I hope wise heads prevail in both Washington and Beijing.”

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