|CHINA, TRADE AND DEMOCRACY|
December 1, 1999
RAY SUAREZ: China hopes soon to become a full-fledged member of the WTO. A question being raised in the U.S. and other western countries is whether WTO membership will push China to democratic reforms. We have three views: Jim Mann is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and was the paper's Beijing bureau chief from 1984 to 1987. He is the author of "About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China from Nixon to Clinton." Stanley Lubman is a consulting professor at Stanford Law School and provides legal advice to U.S. companies doing business in China. He is also the author of a new book, "Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China After Mao." And Drew Liu is executive director of the China Strategic Institute, a think tank that promotes China's peaceful transition to constitutional democracy. Well, gentlemen, I guess we'll start with the most basic question: Can WTO membership open up China? Drew Liu?
|A trade agreement -- not a political agenda|
DREW LIU, China Strategic Institute: It's necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. But it's certainly a right step towards -- in that direction.
RAY SUAREZ: Jim Mann?
JIM MANN, Los Angeles Times: I'm deeply skeptical, Ray, that this WTO agreement is going to change China's political system. I think that's an argument that some elements of the business community use to sell the agreement. This is a trade agreement. It's going to help in some ways some American investors and some American companies that want to export to China and Chinese companies that want to export to the United States. It ought to be judged on its economic merits. But the idea that this agreement is going to change China's political system I think is a fantasy.
RAY SUAREZ: Stanley Lubman?
STANLEY LUBMAN, Stanford University: We have to know that change in China can only come very slowly. It took centuries for the rule of law to evolve in the West, and it's going to take a very long time for China to make greater progress towards legality. But entry into the WTO ought to provide momentum to legal reforms that have been ongoing. The members of the WTO have to agree to provide uniform, impartial and reasonable systems of law making. China has to agree in a protocol of accession to do what is necessary to meet the treaty standard. If and as China does what it's supposed to do, then improvements in the Chinese legal system ought to benefit Chinese as well as foreigners.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Stanley Lubman, given China's recent past and its track record toward international regimes, opening to the outside world, allowing supranational sovereignty to affect Chinese interior law, how likely do you think it is that they will exceed to these things you mentioned?
STANLEY LUBMAN: The Chinese leadership -- it has not made a wholesale commitment and a deep-seeded commitment to the rule of law, but it also recognizes that it must reduce arbitrariness in Chinese governance in order to maintain its own legitimacy. So for its own reasons, it has been implementing some laws that have begun to take some effect. Also, the consciousness of those laws and of rights under those laws is beginning to spread slowly in China. There will come movement from Chinese society, as well as from above, and I think, although it's going to take a long time, as I said, there will be -- there ought to be some movement towards openness.
|The WTO might make a difference|
RAY SUAREZ: Drew Liu, people have been waiting since Nixon's visit to China for economic liberalization to bring political liberalization in its wake, and a lot of people have been disappointed in that expectation. Why should WTO make a difference?
DREW LIU: Well, rightly so because China is such a big elephant. When elephant moves, turns around, it moves very slowly. There's no linear linkage between the economy and the political life, but however, China's past progress in the last two decades primarily brought about economic changes. When the economy really energized into the people's, you know, thinking and the civil liberties and then from that, you have the spillover impact into other sectors of life, including the political life.
I think the rule of law, as the professor pointed out, is a very important building block. Beyond that, you have the information exchange into China and then people get to know what's going on outside. And then they have like a target, a vision for the future. And right now, there is a tremendous energy inside China to move forward to a new century. And that the past Communist kind of a residual regime is no choice, and the future has to be democratic institutions and based on the rule of law and their respect for human rights. I think there's no alternative if China evolves peacefully and runs its own course in time, and the WTO is something like stabilize this process and stabilize not only the U.S.-China relations, but also the internal process which China needs, especially at this moment. The reform engine somewhat lost its steam, and it needs external stimulus to push the reform engine forward.
RAY SUAREZ: Jim Mann, could we end up with an economically liberal but politically authoritarian state at end of this process?
MANN: Very, very possibly. You know, there is a model for this. This
issue of the rule of law, the questions is: Rule of law for whom? We
could have the rule of law for foreign investors and foreign companies
and not for individuals. That's what you have in Singapore, where you
have a legal system which does quite well at protecting foreign investors
and is also used by the government to harass dissent. And Singapore
in some ways is a model for China. China is so much infinitely larger
than Singapore that I don't think you can compare the two, but that's
the idea. And you take one look at -- a couple of days after the WTO
agreement was signed, or within days of it, and you have -- what happens?
You have the executive committee of the National People's Congress gets
together, they pass a law about cults to crack down on cults, and then
they use this law to go out and arrest members of this organization
Falun Gong. So you can have the rule of law for oppressive purposes,
|Movement to democracy will be slow|
RAY SUAREZ: Stanley Lubman, let's talk a little bit about the ways that the short-term health of an economy may force a state to move to crack down. A lot of the economic forecasts about WTO's effect on China says that, in the near term, there may be new mass unemployment, as inefficient state industries are shut down, as factories that don't produce things that people want to buy are shut down and as cheaper agricultural commodities make it apparent that some Chinese farms just have too many people producing things that are not economic. Could this force a crackdown?
STANLEY LUBMAN: As you say, in the short term, yes, social unrest could deter the improvement in legal institutions. But I'd like to make one point that I think is important about what the WTO can do before China belongs. I mentioned the protocol of accession. That -- there is a draft now, which states what China has to do in order to improve its legal institutions. That draft is not exigent or articulate enough on what China has to do. And I think in the multilateral negotiations that have not yet been concluded, the standards should be set in a more precise fashion so that there will be a higher expressed standard that China has to meet. In the short and in the long run, I think that's very important.
RAY SUAREZ: Drew Liu, international activists have tried to bring attention to the existence of prison camps producing commodities for international export, widespread use of coerced labor, child labor. Could we see WTO addressing and effectively working against these things?
DREW LIU: There are bound to be two steps: First, bringing China in, into some kind of forum. So within the institutional structure, then try to pressure China towards more conformity with the international standard. What a very important point is the WTO is not the end of the game; rather, it's the beginning. And we they'd to look at, as a process, bringing China closer and closer to the international ethical standard, including what you mentioned about the labor issues and labor camps.
RAY SUAREZ: But this is a country that, because of its peculiar history, has been very protective of its internal sovereignty. There was a time when foreigners had burrowed into the country, so they want to make sure that doesn't happen again. Why should it happen now?
DREW LIU: Look at its history, and in the last 150 years, China was
obsessed with foreign invasions of its culture, ending of Chinese civilization.
And with Hong Kong's return and China's gradually assuming a more normal,
kind of a posture in the international community, I think there will
be a normalization not only of, you know, China's external relations
with the West, but also with itself, about its identity, about what
kind of values it will pursue, and I think it needs a process. And the
WTO, you know, stabilized the international environment and create the
kind of condition incentive, as well, so China can gradually evolve
towards, you know, democracy and constitutional democracy.
JIM MANN: I do find him too optimistic. I hope he's right, I wish he was right. I don't see a lot of change, and I don't see a lot of change down the road either. People talk about the changes that the Internet and interaction will bring to China. We're talking about a country -- this is not the United States where everybody, or most people are on the Internet. Workers in China make less than $100 a month. How many of them do you think are out there surfing the wWeb? How many Chinese peasants are out there surfing the Web? There will be, as China's economic interactions with the rest of the world increase, more information coming into China. The question to me still, unfortunately, is: How much will the leadership allow people to engage in open political activity? And I haven't seen that yet.
RAY SUAREZ: Stanley Lubman, briefly before we go, what should we be looking for?
STANLEY LUBMAN: We should be looking for the slow spread of ideas. I meet ordinary Chinese who have never read John Locke who know about the rule of law because they know how they've been governed, and they know that there's an alternative. I think that those ideas that Drew Liu mentioned and that Jim just mentioned will spread, and I think that slow institutional reform will make progress. But I do think it's going to be very, very slow. We're watching -- I'm going to change the metaphor that Drew used. We're watching not an elephant. We're watching a glacier creep, and glaciers creep very, very slowly.
RAY SUAREZ: Stanley Lubman, Jim Mann, Drew Liu, thanks a lot.