Trade with China keeps communication going

America is on the right track in engaging China rather than ignoring it. And there’s no more promising route to continuing communication than trade.

Because of geography and its industries, Washington state has played a key role in dealing with China ever since Deng Xiaoping launched his reform movement in 1977. Although the national balance of trade tips heavily in China’s favor, Boeing and Microsoft have been among the key exporters of U.S. goods. As China joins the World Trade Organization, that trade should grow and become fairer toward the United States. Already, Washington does about $11.7 billion in trade with China per year. The agreement governing China’s entry into the WTO guarantees important new access for American firms.

Congress should immediately complete the final steps in approving the WTO agreement. When it takes up the issue on Tuesday, the Senate should adopt the agreement as approved by the House of Representatives in May. Both Sen. Slade Gorton and Sen. Patty Murray will support the measure, which appears almost certain of passage. With the completion of China’s entry into the WTO, the opportunities are likely to grow for a variety of American products and services.

Washington state’s corporate and government leaders have done an excellent job of working to build relationships that can lead to more trade. The promotion of trade with China makes sense because it brings China and its people more closely in tune with the rest of the world. For all the repression still practiced by the Communist Party rulers in China, the nation has made considerable political progress. In recent years, there have been experiments with elections in localized areas. In daily life, society is enormously more free than it was in the past. The press is certainly manipulated by government, but basic information is available to the public. How else could it be in a country with 16 million Internet users and, by the end of the year, 70 million will have cell phones with direct dialing overseas? Entry into the WTO will require China to adapt a more transparent legal system and continue the process of economic reforms.

There remains an oppressively authoritarian hand over the people, however. Sanctions and attempts to isolate China don’t work. China is too big and too proud — rightly, in many ways — to take orders. But the issues of human rights cannot be honestly ignored by America or individual Americans in dealing with China, either. The jailings of religious, political and labor dissidents are well-documented. The U.S. government can — and does — bring up human rights issues on a regular basis. At least in some individual cases, that apparently makes a difference. And Americans who deal with China should not allow their opinions to be obscured in a glow of international friendship.

Does China listen to voices asking for democracy, inside or outside the country? Many observers believe that the government understands that its reforms are paving the way for eventual democratization. Economic progress doesn’t necessarily lead to political liberalization, but it certainly keeps adding pressure for more rights.

In the decades to come, China hopes to bring its economy up to world standards. It is promoting the education that will enable its people to be part of the international economy. That offers numerous opportunities for Americans to have dealings with China and to communicate their own values, clearly and honestly. Over time, we can build relationships —diplomatic, business and personal — that will benefit everyone.

While leading a state and Puget Sound region trade delegation to China in March, Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel was struck by the fact that most of the officials they had attended top-quality American universities. The conversations, he said, were very open. Asked if trade with China really benefits America, Drewel said, "No wars have ever fought as a result of improved economic conditions." No matter what other benefits trade may bring, peace is a benefit for America, and every American family.

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