- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

President Bush has a historic opportunity to stand against religious oppression and human rights by directly addressing Chinese tyranny — particularly religious oppression and declining freedoms — when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao today. I hope the president uses his trip to make it clear America’s global economic interests go hand-in-hand with our continued fight for global human rights.

There are mixed signals whether this will happen. There have been several significant events recently.

• First, the State Department released its annual report on International Religious Freedom, which again laid bare China’s war against faith and freedom. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Mr. Bush had, for the seventh straight time, designated China a “Country of Particular Concern” because of its egregious violations of religious freedom.

• Next, the independent and bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its report on its August visit to China, declaring “the Chinese government continues to systematically violate the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.”

c Mr. Bush met with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and an outstanding symbol of human rights and religious freedom, not just in China but the world. Beijing, not surprisingly, denounced the meeting. Speaking in Kyoto earlier this week, the president spoke of democracy’s power to better the lives of individuals and make nations more prosperous.

c Despite these positive actions, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on Thursday buried human rights and religious freedom at the bottom of a laundry list of important items on the president’s agenda during a pretrip press briefing: I hope Mr. Hadley’s brief and passing mention does not represent a lack of administration commitment to use the presidency’s bully pulpit to rally the world against tyranny and oppression at every opportunity, in this case dramatically in China.

For years, we have been assured by Beijing and its American supporters that expanded trade and economic reform could help usher a modicum of respect for basic human rights and fundamental liberties in China. We were assured the tradeoff between economic freedom and human rights was only temporary. As the USCIRF Report so aptly states, “This argument can no longer be sustained.”

In fact, as the commission demonstrates, “The room for political openness, public activism, and greater civil and individual freedoms is narrowing.” The State Department report and the CPC designation make clear that there has been no overall improvement on religious freedom in China.

In an arrogant display of total contempt for world opinion and its international obligations, Beijing last week sentenced Cai Zhuohua, pastor of an underground Protestant church, to three years in jail for illegally printing Bibles. It also fined Mr. Cai $20,000, and fined and sentenced his wife and brother-in-law to prison terms. This happened in Beijing — not some distant province — clearly showing religious persecution is government policy and providing the world a timely example of China’s continued refusal to observe its international obligations to respect religious freedom and human rights.

Chinese citizens are subject to severe government repression for exercising their rights to freedom of religion and thought. Coerced confessions, presumption of guilt and extrajudicial influences on courts are pervasive throughout China.

Forced abortion and sterilization continue to be widespread, including in the Shandong Province. New regulations on religious affairs have been perverted to persecute religious groups. Though all religious people suffer, members of “unofficial” churches — including Catholics, members of Protestant house churches, Falun Gong practitioners, and ethnic minorities such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims — bear the brunt of abuses from harassment and arbitrary detention in prisons, psychiatric facilities and reeducation-through-labor camps to torture and death. China’s dictatorship oppresses, tortures and mistreats tens of millions of its own citizens. We simply cannot continue to turn a blind eye because of our economic ties.

There is mounting concern in Congress, throughout the government and across the country about Chinese public policy. Yesterday, I joined a bipartisan group of 21 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives to send President Bush a letter urging that human rights and religious freedom be a major topic in discussions with President Hu Jintao.

All Americans and concerned members of the international community must make clear to Mr. Bush the urgency of raising China’s violations against human rights and religious freedom in his summit meeting — as he has done before.

Our focus on religious freedom is based upon our fundamental concern for human dignity and the rule of law. By passionately defending the rights of all believers, no matter their faith, we demonstrate to a skeptical world that America is truly committed to freedom, not simply to our own national interest. Or, perhaps better, that universal freedom is our national interest.

Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, is vice chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee and chairman of its Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations.

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