Senators Aim to Reverse China’s ‘Economic Warfare,’ Repeal Most Favored Nation Trade Status
As Chinese communist officials forecast an impending “conflict” with the U.S., congressional Republicans have introduced legislation to cut off the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest source of strength: its economic might. The bill would allow Congress to hold the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accountable for human rights violations, including forced abortion and denying the rights of Christians to worship.
Unless the U.S. reverses its allegedly hostile policy, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned Tuesday, “conflict and confrontation” would become inevitable. Much of China’s military might has been built on the strength of its global trade balance with the U.S., created by its decades-long Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. Experts say the policy cost millions of U.S. jobs while pumping more than $8 trillion into the economy of America’s greatest global adversary.
MFN status makes Chinese products eligible for low- or zero-tariff levels. Under Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), China receives privileged trade status immediately. The China Trade Relations Act (S. 125) would require the president to grant, or withhold, MFN status and allow Congress to override his decision. It also expands human rights abuses that would disqualify China from receiving favorable trade terms to include operation of concentration camps, forced abortion or sterilization, suppressing religious liberty, the use of slave labor, engaging in economic espionage against U.S. companies, harassing Chinese nationals living outside the PRC, and organ harvesting.
“For 20 years, communist China has held permanent most-favored-nation status, which has supercharged the loss of American manufacturing jobs. China never deserved this privilege in the first place, and China certainly does not deserve it today,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the bill’s four Republican sponsors in the Senate. “The Chinese Communist Party is not America’s friend, and it is not a force for good in the world. From human rights abuses to the theft of U.S. jobs and intellectual property, the CCP must be held accountable,” said Senator Ted Budd (R-N.C.).
Observers say it is past time for politicians to rethink America’s open trade policy for Chinese goods, often made by slave labor and always accompanied by unfair practices. “Since 2001, American manufacturers and the hard-working men and women they employ have been in the center of China’s crosshairs as Beijing wages economic warfare against our nation. By now, every member of Congress is well aware of the scope and scale of China’s unfair trade practices and how it has devastated U.S. industrial capacity and put millions of Americans out of work,” Nick Iacovella, senior vice president at the Coalition for a Prosperous America, told The Washington Stand. “Repealing MFN for China must be part of Congress’s continued bipartisan work to boost domestic manufacturing, reshore our supply chains, and implement trade policies that create, rather than destroy, good-paying jobs for American workers.”
“We urge lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support this effort,” Iacovella told TWS. A tough-on-China trade policy would prove popular with U.S. voters. A majority (57%) of Americans support revoking MFN for China, according to a Morning Consult poll released in January, before Qin’s comments.
“China says that the United States of America is their enemy, and we darn well better start acting like it,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Monday. Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) called America’s preferential treatment of Chinese trade “absolutely absurd when they are working against us. It is time to put American interests first, not the CCP, and reverse this antiquated law.”
Although President Biden has said he does not want “a new Cold War” with China every single year of his presidency, “we’ve been in a cold war with China for a long time,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) told TBN’s “Centerpoint” program Tuesday.
That cold war could turn hot, as military experts predict the CCP will invade Taiwan within the next two years, possibly drawing America’s into the hostilities. “Before Joe Biden leaves office, Taiwan will be under attack by China,” Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of Family Research Council, told Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Tuesday. Xi Jinping and the CCP believe any military offensive against Taiwan “ought to be done before 2024 or 2025,” when the next administration takes office, “because right now they see us as weak, and they [will] exploit that.”
The Biden administration constitutes “a time of vulnerability for us,” Boykin said.
Boykin credited President Jimmy Carter’s normalization of relations with mainland China in 1979 as the beginning of mainland China’s military domination. Carter, he said, curtailed military training of Taiwan. China’s conditional MFN status took effect on February 1, 1980 and was extended every year after that.
Both party’s leaders believed free trade would invariably lead the CCP to adopt greater democratic reforms. Then-President Bill Clinton hailed China’s WTO membership as “an historic step toward continued prosperity in America, reform in China, and peace in the world,” claiming trade with the West created “new hope for change in China.” Future President George W. Bush cited his belief that “trade with China will promote freedom” as “an important area of agreement” with Clinton and Al Gore. Clinton granted PNTR to the People’s Republic of China in 2000, and China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 with Bush’s approval.
That bipartisan consensus held until the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, who raised tariffs on Chinese products during his administration. At the conservative gathering CPAC on Saturday, Trump pledged a more determined America First trade policy, vowing to revoke China’s beneficial trade status and decouple the U.S. economy from the PRC. “I will have a four-year plan to phase out all Chinese imports of essential goods and gain total independence from China,” Trump said. “We have to do it.”
U.S. purchases of goods made in China has furnished the Chinese economy with approximately $8.175 trillion since 2000. The U.S. trade deficit with China has increased $299 billion between 2000 and 2022, a 460% rise.
Those greenbacks have financed the PRC’s military expansion. On Sunday, Chinese officials announced plans to increase military spending 7.2% this year. Chinese military spending has increased 1,319% since attaining PNTR, from $22.24 billion in 2000 to $$293.35 in 2021, according to figures provided by the World Bank.
Military experts say the U.S. can no longer fight a two-front war, and military simulations have shown China defeating U.S. forces handily in any conflict in the South China Sea. “My response was, ‘Holy crap. We are going to lose if we fight like this,’” Lt. General Clint Hinote told The Wall Street Journal on Monday. “I was struck how quickly China had advanced, and how our long-held doctrines about warfare were becoming obsolete.”
Religious oppression has continued in China, despite hopes for greater tolerance. CCP officials have forced Christian churches to replace the Ten Commandments with socialist propaganda and remove pictures of Jesus from their living rooms, or lose government funding. A Chinese textbook teaches that Jesus killed the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John.
“We must correct President Clinton’s horrific mistake and return to the pre-Clinton norm by making annual renewal of normal trade relations contingent on concrete progress on human rights,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the chair of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus.
America’s China trade policy has heavily impacted American families at home. China’s WTO membership cost American workers 3.7 million manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2018, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A 2016 study by Federal Reserve economist Justin Pierce established “a link between the sharp drop in U.S. manufacturing employment after 2001 and the elimination of trade policy uncertainty resulting from the U.S. granting of permanent normal trade relations to China in late 2000. … [T]hese policy-related employment losses coincide with a relative acceleration of U.S. imports from China, the number of U.S. firms importing from China, the number of Chinese firms exporting to the U.S., and the number of U.S.-China importer-exporter pairs.”
America may regain its strategic footing by ending the Biden administration’s open-ended support for Ukraine, Perry told Perkins. The Biden administration believes China may arm Russian forces in Ukraine, turning America’s proxy war against Moscow into Beijing’s proxy war against America. “I’m exceptionally concerned with what might happen in the spring and a spring offensive by Russia, backed by China,” Perry told Perkins. “We need the president of the United States to clearly define what’s in our national interest, to spend this much treasure that far away.”
Boykin says, unlike the U.S., the Chinese Communist Party will not make the mistake of turning Ukraine into a quagmire. “I don’t think they’ll get bogged down in say the Balkans or Ukraine or anything like that in the short term,” Boykin told Cavuto. Although China’s “overall goal is world domination,” he added, “I don’t think they want to get bogged down anywhere else in any kind of conflict until they take Taiwan.”
Perry said U.S. politicians need to do some soul-searching and establish prudent foreign policy goals. “How much do [U.S.] citizens want to be involved?” he asked. “Do they want to continue to spend their hard-earned tax dollars on this or try and do things to save Social Security, or how about defending their own American-Mexican border?” Curtailing U.S. aid “might be a good place to spend some of these resources.”
Senator J.D. Vance’s (R-Ohio) office did not respond to TWS’s request for comment on his legislation.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.