United States President Bush issued a proclamation on December 27, 2001 to extend nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of The People’s Republic of China, thus ending the policy of linking trade to China with its human rights policies. This proclamation was part of the follow-up steps the United States had to take in the light of China joining the World Trade Organization. The extension of nondiscriminatory treatment to the products of China will be effective as of January 1, 2002.
United States lawmakers committed to human rights and democracy as well as human rights activists have been taking advantage of the annual trade reviews to highlight China’s human rights abuses in China and Tibet.
China issued a cautious welcome to this proclamation. While the China’s Foreign Ministry welcomed it saying it “removed a big obstacle” in trade ties between the two countries, the spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation was quoted by AP as saying, “It’s not necessary to issue a statement because Bush was only doing what he ought to have done.”
China could not join WTO as a founding member in 1994 because it “was not showing enough flexibility”, according to senior U.S. and European Union negotiators.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton delinked trade and human rights dealings with China as a precursor to granting permanent Normal Trade Relations status (Most Favored Nation).
In 1999 President Bill Clinton cleared the way for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) by striking a deal with China.
In striking the deal, the Clinton Administration squandered a valuable opportunity to pressure the Chinese leadership to meet significant and verifiable improvements in the areas of human rights and labor.
In 2000 the United States Congress approved granting PNTR to China once it joined WTO. The passage of PNTR signaled the end of the annual congressional review of US trade relations with China that often served America well. On September 19, 2000, U.S. Senators endorsed the PNTR bill which slashes US tariffs on Chinese exports in return for Beijing’s promise to throw open its vast market to US firms.
President Bush’s proclamation is thus a fulfillment of the American commitment towards China.