U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law on Tuesday a bill granting China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with the United States, a measure hard fought over the current legislative session by technology companies eager to sell computer hardware, software, services and other information technology products to the people of the world's most populous country.
In a ceremony on the White House lawn, Clinton said the bill culminated efforts begun almost 30 years ago by President Richard Nixon and pursued by presidents of both parties over the years to normalize ties with the communist country in ways that preserve U.S. interests and advance democracy and other U.S. values.
"As the world economy becomes vastly more complex and interconnected, China's participation in it according to the rules of international trade has only become more important for America, for Asia and the world," Clinton said. "Today we take a major step toward China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a major step toward answering some of the central challenges of this new century."
Among the provisions of China's entry into the WTO is the elimination by 2005 of tariffs on information technology products made in the U.S., including computers, semiconductors and telecommunications equipment. Other provisions eliminate complex trade-related foreign investment requirements. Under the new law, Clinton has the authority to grant PNTR to China, which in turn enables the U.S. formally to recognize China's entry into the WTO. U.S. companies then will be able to take advantage immediately of the trade concessions China made in order to join the 138-member world trade body.
China is now finalizing the remaining WTO accession negotiations. Clinton said China must live up to those agreements as well as face the scrutiny of a new U.S. commission set up under the law to monitor human rights in China, and continued pressure from the U.S. to stop the transfer of dangerous weapons technology.
The U.S. now has a "profound stake" on what happens in China and how it chooses to relate to the rest of the world, Clinton said, adding that it's hard to imagine the future world economy without China being a part of it. But he said as the information revolution fueled by the Internet gives more Chinese people more access to knowledge, the Chinese themselves will have to choose their path, the president said.
"Opening trade with China will not in and of itself lead China to make all the choices we believe it should, but clearly the more China opens its markets the more it unleashes the power of economic freedom the more likely it will be to more fully liberate the human potential of its people," Clinton said.