It's time for China to become a normal country

When I testified against allowing China into the World Trade Organization in 2000, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms asked this question: Would WTO accession change China, as many experts predicted? I said I was more worried about how it would change us.

There was already reason for concern. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter accommodated the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by throwing Taiwan under the bus. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act mandating defensive arms sales to Taiwan.

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In 1982, Ronald Reagan, under Chinese pressure, accepted the Third Communique pledging to drastically limit those arms transfers (embarrassed by that mistake, he agreed to Taipei’s request for the Six Assurances).

In 1989, after the Tiananmen Square massacre, George H.W. Bush sent his national security advisor to clink glasses with Deng Xiaoping and assure him of business as usual. Running against Bush in 1992, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMajor health reform requires Democratic congressional dominance No presidential candidate can unite the country Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain MORE accused him of “coddling the butchers of Beijing.”

But, as president, Clinton visited Beijing and declared “three no’s” against Taiwan: no independence, no two Chinas, no one China/one Taiwan, and also affirmed Taiwan’s exclusion from state-based international organizations (so really, four no’s).

A year later, Clinton doubled down on his obeisance to Beijing by delinking Washington’s annual human rights review from China’s eligibility for permanent normal trade relations (PNTR), paving the way for its eventual entrance into WTO. The handwriting was on the wall: China would not be treated as a normal nation, but would be accorded special treatment.

Even while still a disqualified nonmember, China was allowed to dictate the exclusion of another applicant, which was qualified. Taiwan was forced to wait for years until after China managed to get in. Further, even though statehood is not a prerequisite for membership, the WTO says it “deals with the global rules of trade between nations.” Beijing insisted that Taiwan not be admitted as Taiwan or Republic of China but as the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu (Chinese Taipei).”

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So, from the beginning, there were ample grounds to doubt both China’s intentions to comply with international norms and the international community’s will to insist on compliance. China’s relations with the world have not been normal ever since.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerChinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead Trump says no discussion of extending deadline in Chinese trade talks MORE told the Senate Banking Committee last week, “The WTO has proven to be wholly inadequate to deal with China’s version of a state-dominated economy that rejects market principles.” The Trump administration is determined to hold Beijing to its WTO commitments, much to the dismay of many in the diplomatic and business worlds who have become inured to letting Beijing get away with behavior they would not tolerate in other trading partners. As the president recently said of China’s history of broken promises: “They’ve had a lot of problems living with certain deals.”

The double standard for the People’s Republic as the world’s leading abnormal government goes beyond trade. The most glaring example is in the area of human rights — otherwise known as decent civilized behavior. The current atrocities against the subjugated Uighur population in East Turkestan are slowly gaining the world’s attention, though it has been ongoing for decades on a less dramatic scale. Like the cultural genocide in Tibet, it has not impeded profitable business with China.

But Tiananmen, Tibet and East Turkestan are only the most visible manifestations of Beijing’s moral depravity; human organ harvesting, illegal jailings, torture and other forms of oppression and persecution against Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Falun Gong, political dissidents and lawyers are perpetrated every day. And Beijing maintains its unwavering support for North Korea’s criminal regime and every rogue state and human rights violator on the planet.

Yet, governments continue to deal with China as just another business/diplomatic partner — even awarding it the honor of hosting the Olympic Games again, despite its broken promises of political reform to win the 2008 Olympiad.

In the security realm, nations for the most part have failed to acknowledge the danger posed by an expansionist communist China. Mao Zedong said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and saw the West, with its messianic reliance on democracy and the rule of law, as the Chinese Communist Party’s existential enemy. He applied his ruthless Hobbesian principle through cultural revolution at home and wars of national liberation abroad. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford noted in a recent speech, only 6 percent of the Chinese people belong to the Communist Party, but they rule with an iron fist over the other 94 percent.

Deng Xiaoping sought more feasible means of pursuing the CCP’s domestic and global agendas. He advised his comrades to take the West’s proffered resources and knowledge to strengthen China but to “hide our capabilities and bide our time,” and reveal intentions only when ready. Xi Jinping came into power thinking the time is right to seize “China’s Dream.” His neo-Maoist repression and aggressive foreign policy have let Mao’s cat out of Deng’s bag.

But here, too, when the Trump administration upgraded and expanded freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, there were voices of alarm that Washington could plunge the world into a war with China over worthless collections of rocks and shoals.

Even the United Nations arbitral tribunal’s massive legal repudiation of Beijing’s sweeping claim that the entire South China Sea is a Chinese lake has not resulted in branding and treating China an international outlaw. There are echoes of the oblivious appeasement policies of the 1930s.

Taiwan is probably the most Orwellian example of how the Chinese Communist Party has managed to mold world opinion. Thanks to Chinese pressure, Taiwan — an important economic power in its own right, and a model democratic citizen and contributor to every human and humanitarian need — is isolated and treated as an international pariah by most governments.  This most normal, humane and peaceful of countries is seen as the regional trouble-maker, not its aggressive neighbor threatening missile attacks and invasion.

Calls from Congress and others for elevating relations between Taipei and Washington, including at the presidential level, bring objections that repeat Beijing’s mantra that these are gratuitous provocations, as if all would be peaceful if only Taiwan and its American supporters would quietly accept the status quo. The reality is that China has been moving ever more aggressively to change the status quo by compelling Taiwan’s “peaceful” surrender to CCP rule. Its Anti-Secession Law explicitly threatens the use of force whenever it decides to act, and Henry Kissinger has warned approvingly, “China will not wait forever.”

As Nixon said a half-century ago before his historic opening, “China must change.” The Trump administration’s efforts toward that end are the most serious ever undertaken in the areas of trade, Taiwan and maritime security. Moral, political and diplomatic pressure on human rights will go a long way toward encouraging the emergence of the normal China the world and the Chinese people long have been promised.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010.  He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and is a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute.