The Boston Globe


Page A13

(Copyright 2000)

It will be time to upgrade China's trade status with the United States when the Chinese government stops torturing middle-aged widows to death. No member of Congress should vote on the bill to establish permanent normal trade relations with China without first reading Ian Johnson's harrowing April 20 account in The Wall Street Journal of what Beijing did to Chen Zixiu, a retired auto worker from Weifang.

"The day before Chen Zixiu died," the Journal's story begins, "her captors again demanded that she renounce her faith in Falun Dafa. Barely conscious after repeated jolts from a cattle prod, the 58- year-old stubbornly shook her head.

"Enraged, the local officials ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood, said cellmates and other prisoners who witnessed the incident. She crawled outside, vomited, and collapsed. She never regained consciousness."

Falun Dafa is not a crime ring or a conspiracy to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party. It is a system of breathing exercises (called Falun Gong), combined with spiritual readings and meditation. Chen was attracted to it because she found, like several million other Chinese, that doing the exercises made her feel better. But the Beijing dictatorship, intolerant of any movement it doesn't control, banned Falun Gong last summer. Chen was arrested. And when this humble woman - who, Johnson writes, was "barely literate and never before interested in politics" - refused to abandon her innocent exercises, the government decided to teach her a lesson.

"Ms. Chen's ordeal began that night," the Journal reports. In a nearby cell, other prisoners heard her screams. "Officials from the Chengguan Street Committee used plastic truncheons on her calves, feet, and lower back, as well as a cattle prod on her head and neck, according to witnesses."

By the end, not much was left of Ms. Chen. Her son and daughter were grudgingly permitted to see her corpse. "Their mother, they recalled, was laid out on a table . . . . Her calves were black. Six- inch welts streaked along her back. Her teeth were broken. Her ear was swollen and blue." Advocates of normalizing trade relations with China - permanently granting it what used to be called most-favored-nation status - say the decision should not be tied to human rights. The current system of annually debating China's trade status, they point out, hasn't induced Beijing to stop abusing the Chinese people. But expanding trade will help spread private enterprise and individual ownership of property in China, paving the way for wider freedom and democracy. So the normalizers reason.

And yet - if China's rulers are prepared to behave with such grotesque brutality now, when the trade changes it wants so badly are at the top of Washington's agenda, how are they going to behave when the bill is approved and normalization is a done deal?

In strictly financial terms, there is no doubt that more trade with China would mean gains for American industry. That has always been the argument for conducting business as usual with totalitarians. Free trade is a marvelous engine of prosperity; its economic benefits cannot be disputed. But profits are not the sum and substance of America's interests in the world.

Permanent normal relations with China? Yes, when China is a normal country. Normal countries do not break harmless citizens who gather for exercise and meditation. Normal countries do not operate a vast network of slave labor camps in which millions of men and women are beaten and starved into producing goods for export. Normal countries do not imprison Catholic bishops for their loyalty to Rome, or torture Tibetan monks for revering the Dalai Lama. Normal countries do not forbid families from having more than one child, or force abortions on women who get pregnant without permission. Earlier this year, China deployed more than 100 new ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan. Beijing warned that it may resort to "all drastic measures . . . including the use of force" to compel Taiwan's reunification with China. It threatened to respond with a nuclear attack if the United States came to the island's defense. "The United States," a Chinese military newspaper predicted, "will not sacrifice 200 million Americans for 20 million Taiwanese."

To repeat: If this is how China's communist dictators act now, when they are eager to see the trade bill pass, what are they going to be like once the bill becomes law and Washington's leverage is gone?

Denying China permanent normal trade relations does not mean denying it trade. It means that trade continues under current arrangements: business goes on as before, and Congress decides each year whether to extend China's privileges for another 12 months.

When will the time be ripe for normal dealings with China? When the Chinese Communist Party tells the truth about Chen Zixiu. The poor woman died, the government insists, of natural causes.

Copyright (c) 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.