Chairman of the USCC Committe on International Policy,
Press Conference on China-MFN,
May 21, 1997
Over the last several years, the period during which both the MFN renewal debate and the question of religious freedom in China have assumed a higher profile than ever before, the U.S. Catholic Conference has been among the most active advocates of a strong and effective human rights component in the bilateral relations between our government and that of the PRC.
We have offered Congressional testimony on several occasions, written repeatedly to all Members of Congress, sent letters from the bishop chairmen of our Committee on International Policy to the President or to the Secretary of States, as well as to the Chinese Ambassador, sent out "Action Alerts" to our national constituencies, issued major statements on religious freedom in China, and we have joined in coalition with others on this issue.
In testimony I offered last year on religious persecution worldwide, I noted that, in the case of China, we have used a variety of tools to defend the rights of believers; we have tried quiet diplomacy and letter-writing campaigns as well as more public challenges, and have repeatedly supported tying MFN renewal to human rights performance. At this time, we said,
the time has come for the Congress to return to linking MFN trading status to improvements in human rights and religious liberty. As business has flourished, the repression of believers and democratic reformers has grown ever more bold, even arrogant. On nearly every front, Chinese policy has been emboldened to be more imperious and demanding, because the United States has led the Communist government to believe that all we Americans care about is profits.
The time has come for business to make a contribution by steadfast adherence to the cause of liberty. Codes of conduct should be stiffened. Business people should be encouraged to take a stand in defense of human rights and religious liberty. It may simply be a matter of individuals urging the cases of imprisoned religious believers on their Chinese counterparts, or refusing to allow in-house supervision of their personnel by government appointees, or rejecting enforcement of the one-child policy on nationals employed in their firms, or adhering to high standards of conduct in labor relations. More recently, in our Conference's Holy Week statement on "Religious Freedom Today," I rehearsed the sad history of China's determination to control religious expression at all costs. In China, Christians, Catholic and Protestant, as well as Buddhists
continue to suffer gravely for their religious beliefs and practices. All religions without exception were attacked and driven underground in China during the horror of the so-called Cultural Revolution. The invasion of Tibet in 1949 saw the destruction of literally thousands of Buddhist monasteries and centers of prayer, and the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama and great numbers of his followers.
Since that time, the government has, on the one hand, sought to maintain tight control over all expressions of religion, including those of the still small but growing numbers of Christians throughout China, and has engaged in direct persecution of those groups that refuse to register with the state, especially the so-called "underground" Catholics and the Evangelicals organized in the house church movements. Priests and bishops not belonging to the government-approved Church have been routinely put under house arrest, some are today in prison, religious services have been curtailed and the Catholic faithful have been prevented from making pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of China in Dong-Lu. Late last year, Pope John Paul II appealed to the Chinese authorities to grant legal status to the whole Catholic Church in that country, and urged them to be afraid "neither of God nor of his Church," asking them "with a sense of deference, to respect the authentic freedom which is the birthright of every man and woman, and to allow believers in Christ to be able to contribute their energies and talents to the development of the nation."
I make that same appeal today to the Chinese authorities, who have thus far turned a deaf ear to the cries of people of faith throughout that great nation and abroad. And I repeat the appeal I made to the Secretary of State last December, in urging our government "on behalf of China's prisoners of conscience, to seriously engage the Chinese government on issues of human rights and religious liberty and to work with us, other concerned people of faith, and human rights organizations to establish a commitment and creditable policy on issues of human rights and religious liberty."
We seek respect for religious liberty for all and, as Catholics, we long for reconciliation within the divided Church of China. We support those who defend the rights of believes and work to build bridges between our societies and communities of faith. We look forward to the day when China will replace the manipulation and control of religious belief and practice with the respect for religious freedom that the world community enshrined as a basic right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of that essential document. We pray that China, and all nations, will move closer to acknowledging that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."