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Statement of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney On Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China

May 25, 2000

I am strongly opposed to recognizing as normal China's persistent violations of fundamental human rights, labor rights, reproductive rights, religious freedom, political rights, social and economic rights, as well as their export of sophisticated and destabilizing weapons, and their overt threats to Taiwan, by granting them Permanent Normal Trade Relations.

To be sure, some people will benefit from granting PNTR to China. If you can shut down your production lines in the United States, turn out your employees, and move your production to China where you can pay workers 25 cents an hour in sweatshop conditions -- and have no moral qualms about that-- then this deal can be a sweet one, indeed. But I thought the United States was supposed to stand for more than just making a quick buck.

I thought the United States was supposed to stand for what is good in the world.

It used to be that we did stand for good in the world. And because of that, we gained the respect and the moral integrity to make our word prevail throughout the world. Indeed, our power and authority went well beyond our ability to rattle sabers and exercise gunboat diplomacy. But it is obvious now to me, that by negotiating agreements like this that are devoid of moral content, my country has completely abdicated its professed concern for human rights.

My vote against PNTR is not a vote against trade. However, my vote against PNTR is a vote against the terms of trade that are being employed today by US firms in China and elsewhere. By granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations, we now eschew one of our most important tools for examining the human rights practices of China. Unfortunately, the human rights record of China will likely get worse before it gets better. And the presence of US corporations has not had and will not have a positive impact on the human rights record of China or on workers' rights.

Each year, the State Department submits to the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, where I serve as Ranking Democrat, its Country Reports on Human Rights. This is our government's formal assessment of basic human rights practices around the world. The record is clear. China's human rights record has markedly deteriorated as we have expanded trade. In fact, this year, my friend and Chairman of the Subcommittee, Congressman Chris Smith and I had to hold two hearings on the State Departments annual human rights report --One for China, and one for ever other nation in the world because China's record is so deplorable and is getting worse.

But after a historic look at rhetoric versus reality, that should not surprise us. After all, we had robust trade with the Nazis before World War II, extensive trade with Iraq just prior to Operation Desert Shield, and we maintained an extensive trading relationship with South Africa during the dark years of apartheid.

In fact it was the people of this country--not the corporations--that put South Africa's human rights record on the national agenda. By focusing on South Africa, the people demanded the opposite of normal trade relations--an embargo! US corporations had nothing to do with changing South Africa's internal policy toward its black majority nor US policy of supporting the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. The US corporate community, in fact, protested the embargo and some never abided by it. If we had waited for US corporations to export democracy, Nelson Mandela would still be on Robben Island. On this issue, the people were heard over the high-priced lobbyists in Washington, DC.

And that is what scares the high-priced lobbyists in Washington.

The way to keep China's human rights record on the national agenda is through our annual NTR review. That is one way that human rights activists in China and in the United States can inform the public of China's human rights record. The fancy lobbyists have squelched that now, so that there is no possibility of the American people becoming informed of what is happening in China, thereby thwarting the kind of action against China that was done against the racists in South Africa.

America's right to know has been severely damaged as a result of this vote.

Freedom, equality, human dignity, and human rights are not for sale. And that's one reason why I chose to vote against this tremendous human rights give-away.

Many proponents of PNTR, including Governor George Bush, say that "Trade is the way to export freedom." A recent study entitled, "Dollars and Democracy" shows the post-Cold War decline of US trade and investment in developing democracies. In other words, US corporations are running away from the countries that are struggling to institute democracy--the countries we say we do like--and are flocking to the authoritarian regimes around the world--the kinds of regimes we say are not good. More to the point, if given a choice between an emerging democracy and an authoritarian regime then US corporations take US taxpayer subsidies and choose the regimes that don't respect human rights, worker rights, or the environment.

For example, Charles Kernaghan in "Made in China" states that at one of the factories where Kathie Lee handbags are being made for Wal-Mart, the workers are forced "to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with only one day off a month, while earning an average wage of 3 cents an hour. However, even after months of work, 46 percent of the workers surveyed earned nothing at all--in fact, they owed money to the company."

Companies are allowed to get away with this kind of worker treatment in authoritarian regimes, not democracies. Furthermore, democracies tend to be more transparent and less corrupt. Yet US private investment currently favors the authoritarian over the democratic.

Supporters of PNTR dribble on about the need of engagement to facilitate a "movement" toward democracy. Yet the facts are that US corporations are leaving democracies at an unprecedented rate. US taxpayers subsidize this new "corporate flight." And unfortunately, one need only look at Chevron Corporation and Occidental Petroleum Company to see examples of just the kind of "movement" that we ought not want to export. In fact, Chevron is in federal court today for aiding and abetting in the murder of Nigerian citizens demonstrating to protect their environment against Chevron's wanton pollution of their indigenous lands. Occidental Petroleum seems to be on the same path as Chevron, willing to run over Colombia's fledgling democracy in order to despoil the sacred lands of the U'wa people. The Uwa have vowed to die before Occidental is allowed on their land. None of this bodes well for anyone involved--except the stockholders, perhaps, of both Chevron and Occidental. And in China, workers who protest their conditions are fired or could face prison for life!

Americans who buy Huffy bicycles, Alpine car stereos, RCA TV's, or Timberland, Keds, Fubu and Nike shoes or Spiegel clothing should have a right to know the conditions under which those items are made. American workers who used to make those items and who are now struggling to find their place in the new economy, certainly should have a right to know why their jobs "fled" to China.

Despite the rhetoric, the vote on China PNTR will not protect the US worker, nor will it protect the Chinese worker. There is a need for something more. That is why I will soon be introducing the Corporate Code of Conduct Act. This bill will establish minimum human rights, labor rights, and environmental protection guidelines based on US and internationally recognized standards. This legislation will allow us all to put our money where our professed values are: fair trade, democracy, respect for workers, sensible environmental standards, and no child labor.

I believe that our corporations can export freedom, prosperity, equality, and justice; and our bill, the Corporate Code of Conduct Act, will ensure that they do.

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