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
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 U’wa 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.