You cannot toss a brick in Washington without conking someone eager to impose economic sanctions against South Africa. That fact should help Congress keep short its forthcoming debate about whether there should be "most favored nation" status for China, Hungary, Afghanistan and Romania.
MFN status involves access to reduced import duties, credits and other preferences amounting to subsidies. China got MFN status in the 1970s and is considered special because . . . well, it is big and therefore. . . . Besides, the regime is only "so-called communist." President Reagan, on the return trip from China, spoke of the "so-called Communist Chinese."
Some State Department officials consider Hungary, which has MFN status, proof that a therapeutic U.S. policy can move a Soviet satellite toward stealthy independence from Moscow. You say the independence is invisible? Silly you. That just proves how stealthy it is. And never mind the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev's policy toward Eastern Europe is neo-(why should America have all the "neos"?)-Stalinism.
Regarding China and Hungary, Washington is, perhaps, incorrigible. But why do we even need to debate a proposal to strip MFN status from Afghanistan and Romania?
Afghanistan got MFN status before the Soviet invasion and has kept it through congressional inaction. The administration does not oppose removing Afghanistan's MFN status. The decision regarding Afghanistan is economically unimportant. Afghanistan's only significant export is its population, approximately one-third of which is in refugee camps abroad. Romania is a more interesting case, if only because the argument against Romania is not significantly weaker than the argument against Afghanistan, yet a sizable State Department lobby supports Romania.
Recently Romania produced some toilet paper containing Biblical words such as "Esau, " "Israel," "Satan." As many as 20,000 Bibles sent to Romania in the 1970s were seized and recycled into toilet paper. Romania has cited its willingness to permit the shipments of Bibles as evidence of its independence, liberality and eligibility for MFN status.
In his 1983 Christmas homily, the Rev. Geza Palfi, 43, protested a government edict making Christmas a "day of labor." He was arrested and died three months later of internal injuries. In spite of severe anti-religious policies, church attendance in Romania is higher than in any Eastern European nation other than Poland. This phenomenon, which is evidence of intense dissatisfaction with the regime, is cited by the regime as evidence of its toleration.
In the United States, we debate the registration of guns. In Romania, typewriters must be registered with the police. Psychiatric "hospitals" are used for the torture of dissidents. To acquire MFN status, Romania formally ended a confiscatory "education reparation tax" on those who wished to emigrate. The tax is now collected, unofficially, in bribes. Concerned about the low birthrate, the government submits women workers to mandatory gynecological examinations.
The Helsinki Watch Committee considers Romania "one of the worst human rights offenders in Eastern Europe." Romanian actions violate, comprehensively, Romanian law and the nation's international undertakings, including the obligation to allow U.S. citizens to exercise inheritance rights or receive just compensation for property held in Romania.
After 3 1/2 years in Bucharest, the U.S. ambassador, David Funderburk, who speaks Romanian and studied there for two years, resigned to express his exasperation with the State Department's unshakable faith that Romania's President Ceausescu conducts a significantly independent foreign policy. The evidence for this "independence" is an assortment of acts, such as Romania's participation in the 1984 Olympics, acts that are, singly and even cumulatively, small beer.
Ambassador Funderburk says his embassy staff "observed a large Soviet presence in Romania that was not welcome news to some officials in Washington. On our own initiative we looked in registries, checked schools, traced license plates and came up with an ungodly number of resident Soviets, including Soviet agents in factories monitoring Romanian exports to the Soviet Union."
Romania's occasional rudeness may annoy the Kremlin. Romania criticized the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, did not break diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 war and does not permit Soviet military maneuvers on Romanian soil. But such gestures hardly constitute independence.
They are dust in those eyes, including State Department eyes, that do not want to see Romania's complete compliance with the Kremlin's two paramount requirements -- domestic Stalinism and support in the military-industrial complex that is the Soviet Union. The Romanian regime has harshly criticized Poland's Solidarity movement, and has integrated its intelligence service with the Soviet's East-bloc network.
Trees, which only God can make, die so that debates, which Congress makes, can be transcribed on paper. The coming debate on MFN status should not cost many trees.