Scoop Jackson Bill Reaches the Long Ears of OFK

There are many wonderful dialogues in Lawrence of Arabia, but this is one of my favorites:

SILIAM: And yet now it seems Audar has grown old and lost his taste for fighting.

AUDAR: It is well you say it in my tent, thou old tulip!

ALI: Yet, this is a tulip that the Turks could not buy.

AUDAR: Why should they wish to? Now! I will tell you what they pay me, and you will tell me if this is a servant’s wages. They pay me, month by month, one hundred golden guineas.

LAWRENCE: One hundred and fifty, Auda.

AUDAR: Who told you that?

LAWRENCE: I have long ears.

AUDAR: And a long tongue between them.

Thanks to the long-eared source who supplied me a copy of the Scoop Jackson bill, which would impose limits on imports from China unless the PRC abides by its obligations to North Korean refugees under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. Full bill here. I’ve read it, and although I still consider it a long-shot in Congress, it’s been substantially improved since it was an across-the-board punitive tariff last spring. Now, it would freeze Chinese imports at 2003 levels, which probably would be seen as a legal way to do a countervailing tariff (WTO notwithstanding) against Chinese state manipulation of the RMB and its subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

In other words, although the accelerating freezes to 2001 and 1997 import levels are likely to be stripped out of the final bill, I assess this as being at least defensible, at least no so wildly impractical as to constitute an empty threat. China has an increasingly restive underclass of hundreds of millions, and the state must sustain high growth rates to keep it reasonably pacified. That high growth depends on exports to the United States, and this bill effectivly threatens to cap that growth at zero, meaning that it’s more of an immediate threat to the Chinese government than to American consumers.

Note to those who view the world in strictly economic terms: this is not an argument that American consumers and the world economy wouldn’t suffer. They would. But it’s reasonable to at least consider the cost of a catastrophic war that China’s support for the Kim Jong Il regime has made far more likely.