WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration continued to send mixed signals about its China policy Friday by announcing it will reestablish a U.S.-China economic forum that was suspended after the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989.
The announcement by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen came one day after U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor vowed to cut Chinese textile quotas because the Beijing government is failing to prevent quota evasion. The administration also is threatening to halt China’s favorable trade status because of human rights violations.
Bentsen, who will visit China and other Asian countries later this month, said in a press conference that he wants the Joint Economic Committee to begin meeting again to discuss bilateral economic issues.
While Bentsen did not comment further on the establishment of the committee, a department spokesman said later, “We felt it was time to revive this forum because we have increasing trade and mutual interests [with China]. We need to make sure we’re doing what we need to do to make that part of our relationship work.”
“To me, that’s a form of appeasement of China in the interest of overriding [commercial] considerations,” said Herman Starobin, research director for the ILGWU.
Starobin said the administration’s expressed concerns for human rights and greater market access for U.S. products, including textiles and apparel, “are just a couple of roadblocks we’re using to put pressure on China and for propaganda within the U.S.”
But Bentsen emphasized that the commercial nature of his trip is not meant to subjugate other issues.
“I will make clear that U.S. concerns about human rights remain fundamental,” he said. “We obviously will be watching China’s actions in this area closely as we move toward the President’s MFN [Most Favored Nation] decision this year.”
Bentsen also said he hopes China will agree to U.S. demands on the transshipping issue by the deadline of Jan. 17.
U.S. retailers and importers, who consider China a key business partner, welcomed the administration’s move to reestablish the economic committee.
“As more U.S. officials talk with more Chinese officials, the more likely we are to improve the relationship,” said Julia K. Hughes, president of Associated Merchandising Corp., and chairman of the United States Association of Importers of Textile and Apparel.
Eugene Milosh, president of the American Association of Exporters and Importers, said, “Transshipment is a recognized problem, but we don’t want the transshipment problem to overshadow everything else. There are many legitimate business people involved in the growing China trade.”
In addition to the China visit, Bentsen will meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow to discuss foreign aid, and visit Indonesia and Thailand to discuss an upcoming meeting of finance ministers from Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation countries.
Asia-Pacific countries currently buy about half of U.S. exports, and U.S. exports in the region have risen by about 65 percent in the last five years, Bentsen said.
“We need to start sharing ideas on the challenges we face,” Bentsen said, referring to promoting region-wide growth and private investment, stabilizing capital markets and creating solid infrastructure.