May 4, 1999 | Commentary on Asia
A worthy journalistic competitor to ChinaOnline brings us
news today that China's top telecommunications official has
tendered his resignation in protest of Premier Zhu Rongji's
concessions to U.S. trade negotiators on China's World Trade
Organization (5/4/1999) membership.
The Wall Street Journal (if you must know) informs us that reliable but unnamed sources in Beijing say the Minister for Information Industries, Mr. Wu Jichuan, asked to be transferred to a provincial post after learning of the telecommunication concessions Zhu gave away to the U.S.
Minister Wu is a strong protector of China's telecommunications sector, and the concessions Zhu made at the White House last month would open China's booming telecom market to a threatening influx of aggressive, efficient and technologically superior foreign competitors.
No doubt, Minister Wu had hoped his immediate boss, China's industrial policy czar, State Councillor Wang Zhongyu, could have prevented Premier Zhu from handing away the keys to China's telecommunication market to try to clinch a WTO deal. And no doubt, Wang Zhongyu himself was dissatisfied with the outcome, as he and other members of Premier Zhu's entourage in Washington debated their moves in late night strategy sessions in a Washington hotel.
Premier Zhu's powerful pro-state industry advisors on the trip, Wang Zhongyu, State Planning Commissioner Zeng Peiyan, and Communist Party economist Ma Kai probably discouraged Zhu from making bold concessions, while Zhu's pro-free trade advisors, state councillor (and former foreign trade minister) Madame Wu Yi, former foreign trade minister Shi Guangsheng, and Shi's deputy Vice Minister Long Yongtu, probably argued that quick WTO membership was more important than trying to insulate state industries from foreign competition.
In the end, the pro free-trade advisors won out and Wu, among others in the protectionist camp, were stung. But Wu Jichuan's proffered resignation is surely far more symbolic than substantive -like a letter written not so much to Premier Zhu as President Clinton.
By leaking news of the Minister's unhappiness to a major American newspaper, Wu tells President Clinton he isn't the only one under serious political pressure in the US-China relationship. If Clinton is under pressure from Big Labor or Hollywood, he should understand that Premier Zhu and his boss, President Jiang Zemin, are under equally heavy pressure from their most important constituency, the 100 million workers in China's state industries.
Even if Minister Wu Jichuan doesn't resign (and I would be very surprised if he did), U.S. trade negotiators should listen to his message. China's economic leadership lost tremendous face by President Clinton's bait-and-switch tactics, and Premier Zhu's reputation at home was undermined.
If Washington is unable to support China's WTO application, it ought not delude itself about the political realities in China. The message of Wu's "resignation" is perfectly clear: the concessions that the U.S. Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, wrung last month from her counterpart, state councillor Wu Yi, are not set in stone.
John J. Tkacik, Jr., is president of China Business Intelligence, an Alexandria, Virginia, consulting firm. He is also a Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared on China Online.