Twists and turns, slow and measured ascents followed by stomach churning plunges. A roller coaster at your local theme park? No, U.S.-China relations over the last few years. And it's a bad way for two enormous and important countries on opposite sides of the Pacific Rim to deal with one another. The U.S. should seize the upcoming opportunity to fashion common-sense trade rules that will offer the American and Chinese peoples greater hopes for stability, prosperity and freedom.
The U.S.-China relations roller coaster will crest this summer as the annual trade debate over normal trade relations--sometimes called "most favored nation" status--is merged with the more debate about China's admission to the World Trade Organization. These intricate trade negotiations and rules that are the stuff of lawyers and government officials are vitally important because prices, product quality, consumer choice, jobs and investments are ultimately tied to trade. Trade with Asia is critical to California's and America's continued economic growth.
The American people have been exposed to China in the last year like never before. Unfortunately, much of this attention has been the negative headlines of espionage, protests against the tragic mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and illegal campaign activities. Though these all deserve to be discussed and examined in full, what has not received enough attention has been the truly revolutionary change sweeping across China.
China is literally revamping its entire economic system, an enormous undertaking. It's the equivalent of the people switching to driving on the other side of the road, repudiating their whole political ideology and changing their economic language all at once. This type of economic and political revolution can't happen overnight. If it did, there could be such instability and shock to the system that retrenchment, bloodshed and political repression might reappear. When China tried swift, radical change during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, 60 million people died.
But things are changing in China, and mostly for the better. We can be under no illusions about the fact that the Beijing government is a repressive, authoritarian dictatorship. Yet although political rights are largely nonexistent, there is no question that personal freedom is on the rise, due in large part to market reforms.
Year after year, the United States has extended normal trading relations to China over the objections of those who think that curtailing trade will solve our problems with China. I have never understood the argument that limiting Chinese interaction with America's vibrant free market, democratic institutions and renowned individual spirit of free enterprise would somehow strengthen democratic activists and weaken entrenched hard-liners. Trade with China is not a gift or reward that should be given and taken away; it is a crucial tool needed to foster change and reform in a very old, proud and different culture.
This annual debate over commercial relations with China will end once that country is admitted to the WTO and agrees to take the painful steps necessary to bring its economy in line with world standards and practices. China's WTO membership will bring major benefits to Americans, by fully opening China's vast market to American manufacturers, farmers and service industries. Of particular importance to my state of California will be the protections of intellectual property rights of our world-class entertainers and high-tech industries. What a win-win scenario this is for American workers, businesses and consumers.
As Americans, we must pursue China for our own self-interest as much as to help China get better, with the top priority being the safeguarding of our national security. China is a business partner, but we cannot confuse that with a strategic relationship. We do share some mutual interests that it is hoped would be increased as friendly ties improve. But just as a business wouldn't share its confidential marketing strategies or cost structure with a competitor, the U.S. government and American businesses must take care not to leak sensitive material to the Chinese government. China is simultaneously our business partner and our competitor.
What we must do is approve normal trade relations and its entry into the WTO for the sake of both our nations. A stable and open trade relationship, divorced from the wild roller coaster ride of yearly fights and political trends, will increase prosperity and improve the lives of the American and Chinese people.