Trade restrictions against China because of its human rights record are “too heavy a weapon” when the United States needs China’s help in stopping the North Korean nuclear threat, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said Sunday.
“We have to understand here the stakes are very high,” the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Let’s keep the pressure on human rights, but that is not our top priority. Our top priority has to be in that region of the world to prevent proliferation, to prevent the nuclear arms race.”
Nunn said China’s backing is crucial in the event the United States asks the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on North Korea for refusing to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.
“I think using total cutoff of MFN (most-favored nation trading status) is too heavy a weapon, particularly when we have the other stakes in northeast Asia, as we’ve just mentioned with North Korea.”
The Clinton Administration says it will not renew MFN status, which gives China the low tariffs enjoyed by most U.S. trading partners, when it comes up for review in June if Beijing does not make significant progress toward improving its human rights record.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, after a meeting with the Chinese foreign minister in Paris last week, acknowledged that China has taken some steps to improve its human rights record but said more needs to be done.
However, the Administration in recent weeks has also indicated that it wants to avoid a trade war with China that could jeopardize billions of dollars in American sales to China and undermine Chinese cooperation in stopping North Korea from developing nuclear arms.
National Economic Council Chairman Robert E. Rubin said last week that while the United States must keep leverage on human rights, ending the link between human rights and trade “is a very good objective to shoot for.”
Asked about a report that Japan is close to developing its own nuclear bomb, Nunn said that Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa summed up his country’s nuclear policy to him in Tokyo 10 days ago.
“They will not develop a nuclear weapon no matter what the North Koreans do,” Nunn said. “But what we have to realize, though, is that this is what I consider an interim, temporary position and they have the capability and could develop nuclear weapons very rapidly.”
Nunn also said he did not agree with the State Department’s expected plan to retain Strobe Talbott as special adviser on Russia and the other former Soviet republics once Talbott, nominated to be the new deputy secretary, is confirmed in his new position.
“Strobe Talbott is a good man, but to try to do both those jobs is too much,” Nunn said.
He said the United States should continue providing aid to Russia for specific investment and nuclear dismantlement programs. But, “I think we also have to be a little bit more muted in our economic advice,” he said. “I’m afraid that the things that are going wrong now in Russia are being blamed too much by the Russian people on America.”