China cool to end of U.S. trade-human rights link, American companies delighted

Friday, December 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ China reacted coolly Friday to the end of the American policy linking its trade status to human rights, saying President Bush only did ``what he ought to have done.''

Bush's proclamation Thursday ended annual trade reviews long reviled by China as an intrusion into its affairs. The step was prompted by Washington's commitment to the World Trade Organization to treat new member China like its other trading partners.

American businesses welcomed the step as a boost to a slowing world economy. But China's trade ministry said it didn't plan to issue a statement on Bush's decision.

``It's not necessary to issue a statement because Bush was only doing what he ought to have done,'' said Ma Dezhi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

China's Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision, saying it ``removed a big obstacle'' in trade ties between the two countries.

Annual reviews ``had a negative impact on the development of bilateral economic and trade relations,'' ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in a statement carried by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

American companies in China said the step could boost trade, though it won't have any direct impact on their business.

China's low-tariff access to U.S. had been subject to annual review under a 1974 law that applied to all communist governments.

Renewals were uneventful until 1989, when the bloody Chinese crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests turned the process into a rancorous yearly struggle between trade promoters and critics of the communist government.

The U.S. Congress voted last year to give Beijing permanent normal trade relations, or PNTR, once it got into the World Trade Organization. The step was required by U.S. commitments to the WTO to treat other members equally.

China became a WTO member this month.

Nevertheless, Bush's action puts a formal end to debates that were a constant source of friction with Beijing.

``We are delighted,'' said Michael Furst, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.

Furst said Bush's step would encourage China to open further and create economic opportunities for its people.

``To the extent that China is embraced by the outside world and vice versa, I'd say positive change is more likely,'' he said.

The trade debate was especially worrisome to Hong Kong, a base for thousands of businesses that export Chinese goods to the United States.

Bush's action removes a nagging source of uncertainty, said Eden Woon, director of the General Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

``Now they can make decisions based purely on economic factors and not have the cloud of the political relationship hanging over them,'' Woon said.

The state newspaper Beijing Evening News welcomed Bush's decision as an end to an ``unstable element'' in the trade relationship between China and the United States.

``China now has the status accorded under WTO membership, so granting permanent normal trade is a logical next step,'' the newspaper said.