There is a world of difference between the Washington parlors where policy discussions take place and the factory floors of auto-parts plants in Michigan or the prison cells in China where men and women suffer only because they support a free society.

David Ignatius's oversimplified characterization of so-called "isolationists" and "internationalists" [op-ed, Nov. 17] fails to capture the complex reality of the world we live in today and the places described above.

As a member of Congress who believes the United States must take a leadership role in the world, who believes we should pay our U.N. dues, who has sponsored debt relief for the poorest countries, who has worked to reform the International Monetary Fund and who never wavered in support of our involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo, I consider myself a strong internationalist.

But the World Trade Organization (WTO) deal reached with China last week is a great leap backward. The fundamental principle of the agreement is ominous: Trade and corporate profits are all that matter, the rest can come later. It is striking that the United States would abandon the leverage we now have to secure human rights and democratic progress in China--Congress's annual review of our relationship with China. The WTO does not deal with these issues--unless, of course, human rights issues become an impediment to trade.

Despite the fact that not a single dissident, labor rights activist or Tibetan will gain his or her freedom, China will be able to secure multinational investment in its economy and get a seat at the table with other trading nations, where it can use its considerable economic influence to undermine any efforts within the WTO to make progress on labor rights and other important issues.

Contrary to the assertions of WTO cheerleaders, the hidden hand of the marketplace will not automatically bring about democratic reforms or social progress. Earlier in this century, the markets certainly didn't achieve decent working conditions and responsible environmental protections in the United States. It took struggle, by our parents and grandparents, who sat down on the factory floor, marched on Washington and organized in their communities.

Or look at Indonesia. There, the drive to export at the expense of workers and the environment only served to enrich the ruling class and spark an angry revolt last year.

Positive change won't occur in China, or in any autocratic country for that matter, unless we support efforts to build democracy and improve human rights.

--David E. Bonior

The writer is a Democratic representative from Michigan.