More Americans are ready to reduce trade with China

After last month's plane crisis, 1 in 5 Americans say they now shun Chinese- made goods - a jump from a month earlier.

If the product says "Made in China," many Americans have begun to put it back on the store shelf.

Public dismay with China is growing. More people are boycotting Chinese-made goods since the tense April incident involving an American reconnaissance plane. And many in the United States are beginning to question Washington's long effort, begun in 1979, to expand trade with Beijing.

A nationwide poll reports new, worrisome signs for US-China trade relations. Among the findings:

* A plurality of Americans now says that bilateral trade between the United States and China should be reduced.

* More than 20 percent of Americans say they shun any products made in China. That has increased from 15 percent a month ago.

* Republicans, who normally support expanded relations, are among those most strongly in favor of reducing trade with China.

The Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, conducted May 3 to 7, found that 42 percent of Americans want to see China trade at lower levels than it is today. Only 33 percent would keep trade at current levels. The other 25 percent are unsure.

Foes of trade with China were often critical of that country's record on human rights.

A communications technician in Arizona, one of 904 adults interviewed for the Monitor/TIPP study, says he would favor revoking China's favorable trade status "because of its abysmal record on human rights." But he worries that unless other countries joined the effort, it might not be effective.

The April crisis over the US military reconnaissance plane that made an emergency landing on Hainan Island exacerbated relations between the two countries and came at a time when concern was mounting about the huge US trade deficit with China.

Ten years ago, China sold products to the US worth $19 billion while it purchased $6.3 billion in US goods - a US deficit of $12.7 billion.

By 2000, China sold the US $100.1 billion in goods, while it purchased only $16.3 billion - a record deficit for the US with China of $83.8 billion.

American officials have encouraged this expansion of trade in hopes that the US will eventually win its fair share of the consumer market in the world's most populous country. A March report by the Congressional Research Service states:

"Many trade analysts argue that China could prove to be a significant market for US exports in the future. China is one of the world's fastest growing economies.

"It is projected that by the year 2005, China will have more than 230 million middle-income consumers. If achieved, this would likely make China the world's largest market for consumer goods and services and a major market for luxury goods."

China's trade surplus with the US has provided a cash infusion there that has helped Beijing build its industrial base, lifted the incomes of millions of China's citizens, and furnished additional funding to upgrade its military.

China has also welcomed billions of dollars of investments by corporate giants such as Eastman Kodak, Motorola, BP Amoco, General Motors, and Bank of America.

US companies have been signing contracts at the rate of about $6 billion a year to erect new factories and make other investments in China, though the actual US outlays for plants and equipment in China have run only about two-thirds of that amount.

John Foarde, vice president of the US-China Business Council in Washington, says there is very little evidence so far that the Hainan Island incident has disrupted the two countries' intertwined business ties.

Looking beyond Hainan, Mr. Foarde says the council hopes to build long-term business-to-business relationships with China so robust that "when we have a problem like this, it doesn't swamp everything else."

One factor that works in Beijing's favor is the way Chinese exports have so thoroughly penetrated the US market. From toys to shower curtains, it's often difficult to find a specific product in the US that is not made in China.

China's leading exports to the US last year were toys and games ($19.4 billion), office and data machines ($11 billion), telecommunications and recording equipment ($9.9 billion), footwear ($9.2 billion), and electrical machinery and appliances ($9.1 billion).

The US has actively encouraged this expansion of imports even though China is widely accused by critics of limiting US access to its markets, using prison labor to produce goods for export, violating the rights of religious minorities, and stealing US intellectual property.

Despite public uneasiness about China, there is little expectation here that Congress will revoke China's favored trade status when the issue comes up for a vote in the near future.

Staff writer Sara Steindorf assisted with this report in Boston.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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