The Magazine

The Appeasement Gamble

May 29, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 35 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"By this time next year we shall know whether the policy of appeasement has appeased, or whether it has only stimulated a more ferocious appetite."


-- Winston S. Churchill

The House will vote on granting permanent most-favored-nation status to China this week, and it looks like the one-two-three punch of American corporate lobbying, White House horse-trading, and the Republican leadership's arm-twisting may succeed in giving Bill Clinton his victory. The overwhelming majority of pro-China votes, we are sad to say, will be cast by Republicans.

We oppose most-favored-nation status for China. Republicans especially should vote against giving China a free pass to repress its people, threaten its neighbors, modernize its military, and undermine vital American interests in East Asia.

The Clinton administration, led by national security adviser Sandy Berger, has spent the last few months insisting that passage of permanent trade status is the magic cure for all that ails China and the answer to our concerns about China's growing might and growing ambitions.

If Congress approves permanent MFN for China, Berger claims, it will help the "soft-liners" win their battle against the "hard-liners," stimulate press freedom and open debate, alleviate government repression, force China's leaders to loosen their grip, and liberate the forces of democracy. It will open the Chinese market to American goods and services, and thereby infect the Chinese people with the spirit of democracy. And it will lead China to treat its neighbors, above all Taiwan, in a moderate, peaceful fashion. China will become fully integrated into the international political and economic order, and thereby fulfill the Clinton administration's dream of a great "strategic partnership."

Republicans will be mouthing some version of this argument on the floor this week, and some may even believe it. Many others, we suspect, will latch onto the Clinton administration's rhetoric of "engagement" for lack of anything better to justify their vote. (After all, they can't exactly get up on the floor and say they're voting for permanent MFN because the lobbyists from Caterpillar and Boeing told them to.) Whether sincere or cynical, however, those who vote to approve China's permanent trade status on the grounds that it will reform China's domestic and international behavior deserve to be taken at their word. And to be held to account for their action.

What will they say when the Chinese government makes its next arrest of religious leaders? We won't have to wait long to find out, because Beijing is constantly rounding up followers of one religious faith or another. Even as we went to press, Chinese police in Sichuan province arrested 20 members of a religious sect that opposes the government's "family planning" policies.

One of the leaders of this "evil cult" was recently sentenced to one year of "re-education" in a labor camp. In the coming weeks and months, more members of the Falun Gong, more Christians, and more Tibetan Buddhists will be persecuted and, in some cases, killed. Let those who voted for permanent trade status for China explain then what a boon it was for Chinese freedom.

What will they say when the Communist regime in China tightens restrictions on an already muzzled press and carries out a purge of intellectuals and academics infected by Western "bourgeoisification"? In fact, such a purge has already begun under the guise of president Jiang Zemin's recently inaugurated nationwide "Three Stresses Campaign." (The "three stresses" are: "Study the Marxist canon; be righteous; and be politically correct.") Prominent Chinese economists famous in the West for their support of economic reform have been publicly denounced by President Jiang himself. Meanwhile, in preparing for China's accession to the World Trade Organization, Beijing has already begun an effort to bring Chinese media even more firmly under the control of the Communist party.

What will they say when the so-called soft-liners are driven out of their party leadership positions and replaced by hacks known chiefly for loyalty to Jiang Zemin? According to the South China Morning Post's respected China-watcher Willy Wo-lap Lam, "the political fortunes of politicians who might pose a challenge to Mr. Jiang are in decline." That would include the Clinton administration's favorite Chinese reformer, premier Zhu Rongji, who is slated to retire from the Politburo in 2002. Zhu masterminded China's accession to the WTO. It looks as if Jiang may soon reward him by easing him from power.