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May 20, 2000
Column #977


     WASHINGTON This city has turned its attention to a rare religious debate: what should be done about China's persecution of Christians, Buddhists and others?

     Both sides agree on the facts.''This is a period of horrendous, horrific setbacks in religious freedom,'' says Nina Shea of Freedom House. ''Thousands of Falun Gong members have been beaten to death in prisons. Five or six Catholic bishops have been imprisoned.'' Elliott Abrams, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, adds, ''There have been 1,000 monks thrown out of monasteries in Tibet. A Catholic priest was arrested while saying Mass, jailed and his dead body found on the street.''

     The new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, concluded in its first annual report: ''Congress should grand China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status only after China makes substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom.''

     That improvement would be measured by such standards as opening a ''high-level and continuing dialogue with the U.S. on religious freedom issues, permit the Commission and human rights organizations access to religious leaders including those imprisoned (or) release from prison all religious prisoners.''

     It also demanded that the Congress hold annual hearings on human rights and religious freedom in China and invite the Dalai Lama to address a Joint Session of Congress.

     Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, who led the battle to create the Commission, says, ''We agree that this has been one of the worst years ever. Remember China is not lobbying for PNTR, but our business establishment who will benefit from it,'' because tariffs in China will come down, making it easier to sell U.S. products there.

     ''It is not simple old fashioned greed that motivates me. I happen to think that the evidence of change over 25 years, from the time I lived there, is due to obvious economic forces and is not the result of political relaxation.''

     J. Stapleton Roy, America's Ambassador to China from 1991-1995, is the son of Christian missionaries, who were there from 1930 till 1951 when Communists took over. When he was first returned to China as a young diplomat in 1978, there were only two Christian churches in Beijing, one Catholic, one Protestant, attended almost exclusively by foreign diplomats.

     ''By the time I went back in 1991 there were a large number of active congregations, both Catholic and Protestant, which were large and filling to overflow. There are now 40 to 50 million Christians in China,'' most of whom worship in ''house churches'' that are not legally recognized.

     Economic progress fueled this growth of freedom. How? He recalls that food used to be in such short supply that rationing coupons were given to the people - but only where they lived. If one moved, he did not have access to enough food to eat. Price reforms in the 1980's ended the shortage of supply, and the government's control on movement of individuals. Now tens of millions move from areas of job shortages to areas of growth. Millions of Chinese have gotten passports and travel abroad, which used to be unthinkable.

     Rev. Daniel B. Su, of China Outreach Ministries, testified to the Ways & Means Committee this week that PNTR and China's entrance into the World Trade Organization ''will initiate a dynamic process of change in China with far reaching consequences. It will greatly contribute to creating a conducive environment for promoting international norms, the rule of law and individual rights and freedom.

     ''The WTO agreement obligates China to play by the rules. In the process, China will learn to follow international legal procedures and educate its people about the concept of rights, law and international norms. This process in itself is a breakthrough with important philosophical implications for China as a nation.''

     Billy Graham wrote to Congress, ''I believe it is far better for us to thoughtfully strengthen positive aspects of our relationship with China than to treat it as an adversary. It is my experience that nations respond to friendship just as much as people do.''

     A number of leaders of China's underground ''House Church'' wired support to Rep. Joe Pitts. Xu Yong-Ling wrote that China's joining WTO ''will speed up China's reform of its political system, helping China solve its problems such as self-isolation, bureaucracy and dictatorship.''

     Key committees in the House and Senate overwhelmingly endorsed the legislation Wednesday, which suggests a likelihood of overall passage by Congress next week.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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