Why do I, a former leader in the Tiananmen Student Movement, support US engagement and normal trade relations with China? Let me "put a human face" on the answer. My background is partly familiar through my more famous colleagues of Tiananmen Square: Wang Dan, Shen Tong, Wu'er Kaixi, et al. I've never told my own story to the American public until now. However, I do so to explain five reasons why I favor renewing most-favored-nation (MFN) status for China:
1. Trade creates an exchange of information and ideas as well as of goods and services.
The freedom of choice inherent in free trade enhances independent thought, which is a requisite for the democratic process. The student movement was able to attract international attention and support because China had become so involved in the international economy. The movement cost $30,000 a day for tents, food, and medicines and couldn't have lasted as long as it did without donations from entrepreneurs in China, tourists, and overseas businessmen. Perhaps economic development will not automatically bring democracy, but trade and economic exchanges did help China's liberal forces shape democratic changes and improvements in human rights.
2. Trade acts as leverage for promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in China, and businesspeople can be the best lobbyists for those causes.
Human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are simply good, healthy business practices. And businesspeople - whether in sales and management or executives - are well positioned to promote them. Without normal trade relations, the Chinese government leaves no room for engagement with the Chinese people because of its rigid concepts of "friends" versus "enemies." Global economic interdependence grants leverage to influence China's unfair policies, such as the export of prison-labor goods.
3. China's free-thinkers, including dissidents now in prison, support MFN for China.
In a closed society such as China, its intelligentsia can nevertheless play an important role in influencing policy.
4. China's common students, who are the future of China, support MFN. Some have given their lives for dialogue and exchange, over containment and isolation.
The student movement and its bloody ending somehow became a major issue of MFN debate in earlier years. Anger, sympathy, and other emotional reactions to the wrongdoings of the Chinese government regarding this historic event might have become the most appealing reasons to revoke MFN. However, I believe none of the common students who participated in the movement would ask for revoking China's MFN trade status.
5. Trade helps to establish, develop, and maintain human exchanges between two great nations and, furthermore, fosters a civil society in China.
Civil society and exchange of ideas across borders are essential for democracy to flourish.
These five reasons for MFN are related to my background. Nothing in my life will ever compare to those days in the spring of 1989 in Tiananmen Square. Elected to the nine-member standing committee of the Autonomous Federation of Students in Beijing - one of China's first true nongovernmental organizations - I participated in all major decisionmaking processes, including the failed negotiation with Premier Li Peng to end the hunger strike. While struggling to organize the withdrawal of students in the square on June 4, 1989, I experienced firsthand China's darkest hour.
After funerals and memorial services for the innocent students who died in the massacre, I had to go into hiding. The Chinese Communist Party posted my name as No. 7 on its most-wanted list.
During my year underground, I outgrew my anger and had time to think rationally about China's contemporary situation and its future. The close contacts I had with China's common people strengthened my belief that it was necessary for China to continue down its path of reform and change, and that such change could only come through peaceful evolution. The deep sorrow I still felt toward all the dead in the movement, common citizens of Beijing, students, and even soldiers fooled by the power brokers, reminded me that they sacrificed their lives not for political power struggles but for the prosperity and welfare of the Chinese people.
With these beliefs in mind, I joined overseas democracy and human rights organizations, chairing the promotion and fund-raising committees of the Alliance for a Democratic China, the largest prodemocracy organization overseas, and serving as council member and adviser for the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars.
Continuing to take an active part in the movement for human rights, democracy, freedom, and justice in China, I made an independent step. By 1995, China's economy had grown and pockets of independent space were emerging in between the state and mass society. Inspired by the ultimate goals of the student movement and even the hunger strike - seeking dialogue between the decisionmakers and the people at all levels of the society - and, out of concern for Chinese people's welfare instead of ideological conflicts, I founded China Society to (a) promote and maintain constructive communication, exchanges, and dialogue between China and the United States, and (b) to foster civil society in China by strengthening its nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the fields of art and culture, education, rural development, environmental protection, religion and spirituality, and other areas underfunded or even ignored by the Chinese government.
During my seven years of exile, my contacts with China's independent artists, musicians, educators, law professionals, business leaders, legislators, and even senior governmental officials in local and central government did not cease but instead increased substantially - in no small part because of flourishing trade. My confidence in the emergence of a viable civil society and democracy in China is stronger than ever.
* Nick Liang, former student leader at Beijing's Tiananmen Square, gave testimony - from which this article was adapted - at a Senate hearing on US-China trade June 10.