The national interest in the China trade


THE VOTE in Congress on permanent normal trade relations with China looms as a showdown between two world view -- one isolationist, the other internationalist.

It was possible to argue the isolationist view in the 1920s and 1930s, when the United States helped design the League of Nations but stayed out, promoted exports but walled out imports, lamented Japan's invasion of Manchuria but did nothing about it.

But the judgment of history is that those policies were misguided, inviting the Great Depression, totalitarian aggression and even Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Such isolationism, right or wrong then, is no longer an option. Not when the world is plugged into the Internet, when cheap air fares promote mass travel, when goods from anywhere flood our markets and capital leaps borders in an electronic trice.

Globalization is not a choice but a given. The issue is how, not whether, to cope with it.

Permanent normal trade relations means giving U.S. goods and services the access to China's huge market that China's goods have here now. What U.S. interest group is served by denying that?

Bringing China into the World Trade Organization means harnessing it to the rules that the United States abides by, with redress for violations. Who can rationally oppose that?

Constructive dialogue with China means straight talk about its menace to Taiwan, missile sales to Iran, oppression in Tibet and suppression of dissent. Why shut that channel?

The xenophobia of a Pat Buchanan is nostalgia for discredited isolationism. The protectionism of the AFL-CIO is understandable when some Americans lost jobs after past trade deals, even while more were getting new jobs. But it is misapplied. Denying permanent normal trade relations would not save a single job here or protect a single human's rights in China.

The U.S. national interest is to engage the world fully. That includes granting China permanent normal trade relations and moving on from there.

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