June 30, 1999
The upcoming vote on extending "normal trade relations" status to the People's Republic of China presents the Congress with a significant opportunity and challenge to send an unmistakably clear message about our national concern for the protection of basic human rights.
Each time over the past several years when the issue has arisen, it has been our conviction that no Administration has been sufficiently committed to pressing the Chinese authorities on their systemic violations of certain fundamental human rights. Our Conference has focused particularly on the issues of religious freedom and we have repeatedly cited the persecution of religious groups, such as the unregistered Protestant and Catholic churches, and the intrusive interference by the state in the internal life of the "open" or recognized churches. The persecution and control of Tibetan Buddhism is especially shameful and known to all.
We acknowledge that the present Administration has made efforts to raise these issues with the Chinese authorities, but little, if anything, has changed on the human rights front in these last years of increased engagement. Indeed, the continued detention of religious figures as well as of democracy advocates only point up the necessity for unrelenting official U.S. firmness on issues of human rights and religious freedom.
The trade status debate may not be the best forum, but it does offer the Congress an important opportunity to raise the priority of human rights and religious liberty. Therefore, I urge you to send as clear a message as possible by voting to overturn the President's waiver of the relevant sanctions of the 1974 Trade Act. A strong vote to deny MFN/NTS status to China should strengthen the Administration's commitment to putting human rights at the top of the China agenda and send a strong signal that the status quo is not acceptable.
Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference