Ten years after the United States officially ended its yearly review of China's trade status, no one can credibly argue that China is any freer or more attentive to human rights, nor can they claim the United States is better off economically as a result of our bilateral trade and investment relationship with the People's Republic.
Just ask Chen Guangcheng if he is better off--as he now faces a modern version of Sophie's choice. Tibetans are certainly not better off--they are self-immolating at an alarming rate in the face of cultural genocide. Here in the U.S., manufacturing workers are not better off, either; they are among the estimated 2.8 million Americans who have lost their jobs as a result of unbalanced trade with China since 2001. Chinese workers still toil in abysmal working conditions--with multinational companies only deigning to raise standards when exposed by scandal. China's pollution has not abated either, and an estimated 750,000 Chinese prematurely die each year because of it. American security is not better off--we have allowed China to purchase 9 percent of our public debt while we attempt to contain Beijing's capabilities in outer space, on the Pacific Ocean, and in cyberspace.
Yet granting China permanent normal trade relations was presented as some sort of a magic potion, with each new prediction growing more outlandish. Not only would we get more jobs, we might speed the rise of Chinese democracy! And if Congress didn't grant this wish? Isolation! Shame! Lost jobs!
So I won't be faulting Treasury Secretary Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who are in Beijing for the latest round of talks on strategic and economic concern, for falling short of expectations. That's because there is a lot of blame to go around. It's easy to target former President Bill Clinton, who, over the course of his career tacked from condemning the "butchers of Beijing" to becoming the foremost cheerleader for China trade. Or former President George W. Bush, who haplessly stood by as Chinese imports began to flood the American market at impossibly low prices, driving tens of thousands of American factories out of business and millions of Americans out of work.