The Chinese government's appalling behavior as host to the Fourth World Conference on Women illustrates why China is such an enigma and risk to Western companies that want to do business there. In disrupting the women's meetings and harassing delegates in violation of the security agreement it signed with the United Nations, China has helped ensure greater world scrutiny and public recognition of its reported human rights abuses.
Ironically, at least eight plastics' conferences are scheduled there during the remainder of this year and in 1996, exhibitions that demonstrate the extraordinary yin and yang of a feudal nation with one of the most rapid economic growth rates in the world - more than 12 percent a year.
China's social problems are substantial and investors and people who do business in that country have reason to be cautious - even nervous, if they recall last year's strong debate over whether the Clinton Administration would renew China's trade status as ``most favored nation.''
That debate, which was charged by the harsh experience of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, centered on the question of whether the United States should get involved in China's domestic affairs.
What we heard were the same arguments offered during the years of debate in this country over South Africa's indefensible apartheid system.
South Africa eventually became a huge political liability to Western leaders. Its egregious violation of human rights produced sufficient moral outrage that external pressures helped force the government to abandon its policy of racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
China, for reasons of history, geography, race and the Cold War, largely has escaped such close public examination and pressures.
That is about to change, because of the country's prospects for economic growth and the experience of the 20,000 delegates at the women's conference. With unintended help from their repressive hosts, they have focused global attention on the plight of China's tightly controlled 1.2 billion people.
Western manufacturers for years have understood the potential of China as a market, a low-cost production center and a place from which to export products to the rest of Asia. Many U.S. firms are involved in manufacturing ventures with Chinese companies, including Allied Signal Inc. and Ford Motor Co., a firm that produces plastic automotive parts with a local partner in Shanghai province.
Only last week General Motors Corp., which is competing with Ford to partner with China's huge automotive manufacturer, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., said it will invest $130 million in the province to build vehicle parts.
Those partnerships and the hundreds of other joint ventures that have been established can do much to help China make a stable transition to a modern market economy. But so will respect for the basic principles of human rights.