GOP Senators Push Stripping China’s Preferential Trade Status to Protect US Workers, Condemn Rights Abuses

GOP Senators Push Stripping China’s Preferential Trade Status to Protect US Workers, Condemn Rights Abuses
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questions President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 19, 2021 in Washington. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
Cathy He

Republican senators on March 18 introduced a bill that would strip the Chinese regime of its trading privileges by revoking its permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status in a bid to hold it accountable for its economic aggressions and human rights abuses.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would tie China’s eligibility to receive preferential trading treatment—known as “normal trade relations” status (NTR)—with the government’s human rights record.

Under President Bill Clinton, the United States granted China PNTR status in 2000, which paved the way for the regime’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Conventional thinking at the time was that more trade and investment in China would spur democratization within the communist-ruled country.

However, it’s now widely recognized that this consensus has not been effective. Instead, with the help of the surge in foreign investment and a raft of unfair trade practices, China’s communist regime has been strengthened economically, allowing it to solidify its authoritarian grip both inside and outside the country as it continues to escalate a range of aggressions throughout the world. American manufacturing was gutted in the process.
“For twenty years, China has held permanent most-favored-nation status, which has supercharged the loss of American manufacturing jobs. It’s time to protect American jobs and hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their forced labor camps and egregious human rights violations,” Cotton said in a statement.

If passed, the legislation would mean a reversion to the system before China was granted PNTR, where the country’s eligibility for NTR was reviewed yearly. The bill would also disqualify China from NTR status if its government engages in the certain human rights abuses, including forced labor, detaining people in concentration camps; performing forced abortions or sterilizations, forcibly taking the vital organs from prisoners and dissidents, and blocking the free exercise of religion.

The Chinese regime has detained more than one million Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang, a campaign that has been designated by the United States as a genocide.
Faith and rights groups have also been targets of communist leaders in Beijing, including the Buddha-school self improvement practise Falun Gong, which has been severely persecuted for more than two decades. Hundreds of thousands of adherents are estimated to be detained at any given time, where they are subjected to torture and forced organ harvesting.

The bill would also disallow China from receiving NTR status if it engages in systematic economic espionage against the United States, including theft of American intellectual property.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), bill co-sponsor, highlighted Beijing’s hostile actions across a range of fields, including its military aggression, its theft of American technology, and the regime’s malign influence in U.S. politics.

“To continue to ignore these actions as if they can be separated from what we do in our trading relationship is dangerously misguided,” Inhofe said. “Ending China’s permanent preferential trade relationship will send a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party and will support American workers.”

Companion legislation was also introduced to the House by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J).

Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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