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Jewish World Review June 2, 2000 / 28 Iyar, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Pelosi, a voice for human rights -- THE BIG DEBATE over China had a "Show me the money!" quality.

Big business played Daddy Warbucks. "Grab your sales books, boys. This is the big one. There are 1.3 billion human beings who haven't bought their first toaster! What a territory."

The Entity Formerly Known as Big Labor argued the flip side. China hands Clinton and Gore were reminded, "It's the economy, stupid!"

Labor's argument to its once and future presidential candidates: The more work we give those worker bees in Beijing and Shanghai, the more drones we create in Motown and the Bronx.

One voice spoke of an element missing in the China trade story: the nation itself. Will trade with the United States under prevailing conditions help or hurt the people of that grand and ancient society, a people once so rooted in American romantic illusion by the writings of Pearl Buck and the heroics of our own Flying Tigers?

The voice was that of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. She represents many Chinese Americans in the Bay Area and is poised to assume her party's third-ranking position in Congress.

Pelosi spoke against permanent normal trade relations with China for the powerful reason that it forfeits any positive U.S. role in the fight for human rights in that country. Why should Beijing's gerontocracy care what we say about its renowned repressions once we've made it clear, as we did last week on the floor of Congress, that repressions will not reduce our readiness to do business?

"I'm a free trader," she explained in her dramatic late-afternoon speech Wednesday in the moments before the trade bill was approved.

She pushed for human rights conditions in previous one-year trade deals with China — not to kill the deal, but to get China to make good on its deal.

"The goal was to get China to honor the commitment. The goal was not to lift most favored nation status, but to improve our trade relationship. But China has never complied with our trade agreements. If they did, that would make all the difference in the world."

If those pushing the deal are so confident the old men in Beijing will loosen up, why not trust but verify like President Ronald Reagan?

"If everybody thinks they will comply," she said in an interview after the 237-to-197 vote, "why not wait a year?"

Pelosi, front-runner to be elected Majority Whip if the Democrats win control of the House this November, predicts that sponsors of the historic deal, a group that includes a third of her own party caucus, will now defend it no matter what happens to the Chinese people.

"In terms of the trade issue, Congress has spoken very clearly that China will do whatever it wishes with impunity," she said. "I predict that the trade deficit will soar, the human rights violations will intensify, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will continue uncurbed. The only lever we had was permanent free trade.

"I hope I will be proven wrong."

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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