As a physician I know that what might at first seem to be a cure for a particular ailment is really sometimes not a cure at all. In fact, going with a gut reaction to prescribe a cure can do more harm than the original problem.
The same is true for matters of state. The initial reaction to a problem in society, or the world, will leads us to make a conclusion about a course of action. Unfortunately, that first reaction can be wrong, even though guided with the best of intentions.
We have such a case before us now. It is the dilemma of whether or not China should be granted the same trade relationship granted to almost every other nation of the world, a status misleadingly referred to as "Most Favored Nations," or, MFN. We all know the charges: the Chinese government violates basic human rights of its citizens, it is hostile towards Christianity, and its system of government runs contrary to our most fundamental beliefs.
The initial reaction of our collective national psyche is to oppose MFN, to be tough, and say, "No way, no special deals for China." But is it the best solution?
To clear up a misconception, MFN is not a "special" status. In fact, MFN for a country simply means we will trade with that nation with no extraordinary barriers to their entering our marketplace. Free trade is not something to be lightly dismissed. And MFN is nothing more than an attempt, albeit imperfect, at free trade.
Eliminating MFN status for China does not hurt the Chinese government. But it does hurt Americans in two ways. First, by imposing what is essentially a tax on our people. It is a tax because it is the American consumer who will pay higher prices on goods which come from China due to US policy. That means higher prices on many items, but not just items which come directly from China. If the tariffs on Chinese goods increases, people will be forced to find replacement products. As the demand for those products increase, so will those prices.
The second way it hurts Americans is the reciprocal barriers China will inevitably create. It will be almost impossible for our farmers and businessmen to sell their products there, which is why nearly every farmer and every agricultural group I have heard from supports MFN.
But the critics of MFN for China do not address the free-trade aspect of the debate, or the very real cost eliminating MFN will have on the American people. Instead, they focus on the real facts that the basic rights of people the rights we as Americans declare come from God are often violated by China. And for that I defer to those who are "on the ground" in China: the missionaries.
According to Father Robert Sirico, a Paulist priest who recently discussed this topic on the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, the Americans actually in China working to help the Chinese people are scared of what ending MFN might do to their efforts and the people to whom they minister. After all, ending MFN will not bring about the freedoms we hope China may confer on its people, nor will ending MFN mean more religious freedom or fewer human rights violations. In fact, those working in China to bring about positive change fear only the worst if MFN is withdrawn.
"As commercial networks develop, Chinese business people are able to travel freely, and Chinese believers have more disposable income with which to support evangelistic endeavors," Sirico writes. Even worse, the missionaries have been reporting that "such action would endanger their status there, and possibly lead China to revoke their visas. It would severely limit opportunities to bring inů religious materials. These missionaries understand that commercial relations are a wonderfully liberating force that allow not only mutually beneficial trade but also cultural and religious exchanges."
And so the critical question remains: MFN, or no MFN? Ideologically, revoking MFN is a step in the wrong direction, a step away from free trade. It is equally clear that revoking MFN is harmful to our people, and harmful to the Chinese. The ones to suffer will be the very individuals we seek to help, not the powerful elite in Beijing.
I have long held that governments do not solve problems, and government actions often creates more problems than existed previously. It's people who are able to bring about good change in this world, it's people who solve problems. China is indeed a problem: for us and its people. But it is a problem we can only resolve by changing the hearts of the Chinese leaders.
And whether we like it our not, the way we can do that is through trade with China.
By rushing quickly for the pills of government-enforced sanctions, we may have the best of intentions to cure China of her evil leadership. But unfortunately, those pills will only harm the patient. We must swallow our pride and admit that perhaps the best remedy is not the first solution.
It is only through the open dialogue of individuals that China will ever be convinced it is wrong. By closing the door now, when we have the opportunity to allow to grow the seeds of change which have been so firmly planted in China, we will be damning that nation's people to a return to their darker days.
We will lose the patient if we act hastily, and that cannot be option. It's never an option when I have a patient on the operating table, and it cannot be an option when dealing with China.