President Clinton recently called for the extension of most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status to China for another year. Since then, a number of friends have been asking me for my opinion on the issue.
I feel deep gratitude to the principled Americans who have for years tried to bring pressure to bear on the Chinese government to improve human rights. The moral pressure they've exerted on the Chinese government has unquestionably had some positive results, including my own release from custody and the release of Wei Jingsheng and other major political prisoners.
In 1994, in telephone discussions with Wei Jingsheng, we supported placing conditions on MFN for China. This, we felt, was a means of maintaining pressure on the Chinese government without ultimately damaging the commercial interests of the people of China, Hong Kong, or the United States. However, Mr. Clinton's decision to separate MFN from political issues caused China to view the US as a "paper tiger." And, as a result, China's human rights environment took a serious step backward. Wei Jingsheng, Wang Dan, Liu Xiaobo, and others were seized and sent back to prison. I was forced to flee to the United States.
In spite of this, I do not advocate canceling MFN trading status for China. Seen from a standpoint of broad international trends or the long-term interests of the US and China, this action is unwise. It also is impossible in a practical sense. We should be seeking a better way of influencing China's progress.
I agree with Clinton's view that the goal of exerting effective long-term influence over China can be achieved only by maintaining the broadest possible contacts with China on the foundation of MFN, thereby causing China to enter further into the global family and to accept globally-practiced standards of behavior.
The Chinese government has made clear that it is willing to engage in dialogue with the international community on human rights questions - on the condition that the discussion not be carried out in a confrontational way. There is an element of deceptiveness in this, to be sure. But there also is a positive dimension. I would recommend that the American government, using the elimination of the annual MFN debate as a condition, seek to establish with the Chinese Communist government a system of regularized dialogue on human rights issues.
* Wang Xizhe has been a leading activist in China's democracy movement since 1974. He has spent 14 of the past 20 years in prison. This article was written in Chinese and translated into English. The lettering seen in the background is Mr. Wang's.