Impatient With China

IN China, people are used to waiting. And waiting is what most everyone is doing in Beijing - waiting for what happens when Deng Xiaoping leaves the scene and the forces in the military, the government, and the regions play themselves out.Washington, however, is less used to waiting - though when it comes to China, President Bush has been patient to a fault. Mr. Bush has consistently backed most-favored nation (MFN) status for China, even when it was unpopular to do so following the Tiananmen massacre. Political evolution would come, in the president's view, and meanwhile the world's most populous nation shouldn't be isolated. But Mr. Bush last week showed he was not willing to wait on Beijing forever or allow China to run the show on US-Sino trade. On Thursday Mr. Bush called for a comprehensive investigation into Chinese import barriers on US goods. In recent years, Chinese goods have been penetrating US markets, resulting in a $12 billion trade surplus with the US. US officials charge, however, that China's markets are highly regulated and protected and that no rules or standards apply to foreign business and investment. As a result, a number of US business ventures in China have lost money and even gone bankrupt. The Chinese have counted on Bush far too much of late. His call for an investigation shows he won't play the sap for them. The White House, under pressure from both the Senate and House this summer on his proposal for unconditional MFN for China, expected to get some trade concessions from Beijing in August. Then the Chinese delayed. The White House gave them until Sept. 30. Come the deadline, Beijing didn't give an inch. Finally, Bush's patience ran out. To soften the blow, the US chose to investigate trade barriers rather than take direct action. This is a kind of enlightened foot-dragging by the White House. Too much Western prodding of Beijing could hurt the real reformers there by causing a renewed crackdown. Bush is standing up for US business interests. But as a result of recent Senate testimony by Harry Wu, a former Chinese prisoner, the president may be able to stand up for human rights as well. Mr. Wu visited Chinese labor and prison camps last summer posing as a businessman. There he made deals with prison officials to export goods to the US - a clear violation of US customs regulations and of US human rights standards. It is high time the Beijing government was held accountable.

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