April 12, 2000
I write to express the U.S. bishops' concern over the possible extension of permanent normal trade relations to China. Throughout the past decade, the United States Catholic Conference has repeatedly urged that certain conditions be met before the President extended "most favored nation" trading status to China. Particularly, we have urged that the well-documented violations of the Chinese peoples' human rights, and notably their lack of true religious freedom, be seriously addressed and reversed. Sadly, all indications are that the past two years have seen a marked deterioration in the area of human rights and religious freedom.
The full integral human development of China, most populous of the world's nations, and its economic advancement in the global economy, is a goal of great importance. With China's eventual accession to the World Trade Organization, it will enjoy normal trade relations with the other WTO members. However, as long as the Chinese leadership steadfastly refuses to abide by the universal norms of human rights protection, the United States should not grant normal trade relations on a permenent basis. Instead, we should retain the valuable option provided by annual review of China's compliance with fundamental norms.
Neither our government nor the leaders of China have taken seriously enough the deep concerns our Conference and many others have expressed regarding the suppression of religious freedom and other violations of fundamental human rights. These are not marginal issues or diversions in fashioning a strong and productive relationship between our two nations. Absent any other comparable means to focus needed attention on these matters, a strong vote against granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) at this time will send a clear signal to the leaders of both nations, pressing them to give a much higher priority to human rights and religious freedom in the future.
People of good will can disagree on these matters. Trade issues are often not the best means of expressing concern on human rights. Other means, not related to trade, should be sought and strengthened to communicate our country's deep concerns about China's worsening record on human rights and religious freedom, but a decision now to forgo on a permanent basis the annual review and debate on these issues could be seen as an abandonment of U.S. concern for religious liberty and human rights.
With thanks for your attention to these concerns, I am
Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
Chairman, USCC Committee
on International Policy