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ERLC, others urge Congress to oppose PNTR for China

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress should not grant China permanent normal trade relations, a coalition that includes the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy agency said May 4.

The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined the Washington-based Family Research Council and other organizations to call on Congress not to reward the communist giant, especially for its widespread human rights abuses, including its increasing persecution of religious adherents.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on PNTR for China the week of May 22. The world’s most populous country is seeking not only permanent trade status with the United States but entry into the World Trade Organization.

President Clinton and the Republican leadership are mounting a fervent campaign for PNTR, while both GOP and Democratic members are fighting to block it. Though the White House reportedly believes it is winning the battle, anti-PNTR House members remain hopeful they will swing enough undecided votes to prevail.

Opponents of PNTR have more than 50 Republican members lined up to vote against such status, a GOP member said at the Capitol Hill news conference.

“We are doing very well,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., one of Congress’ leading advocates for religious and other human rights overseas. “I think we really have a great opportunity with even members” who are committed to vote for PNTR.

Citing a recent poll showing Americans oppose permanent trade relations with China, Wolf said, “If this Congress grants PNTR, they will not only be on the wrong side of the American people, but … they will be on the wrong side of history.”

In a written statement released at the news conference, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land said Congress should consider granting PNTR status only when China “finally demonstrates a change in both human rights policy and practice.”

“We believe that nations wanting normal, friendly, healthy relations with the United States should respect, rather than trample upon, the rights of their citizens,” Land said. “Unfortunately, the Chinese government’s record on human rights, especially with regard to its persecution of Christians and other people of faith, actually has worsened” in the past year.

Land and others referred to a report issued only three days prior to the news conference by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The nine-member panel, which was appointed by the president and congressional leaders, said PNTR status should be withheld until China makes substantive changes in its oppressive treatment of Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists and others.

“Our government and people of faith in China should expect genuine, demonstrable and purposeful progress in the area of human rights from Chinese leaders,” Land said.

“Rather than reward Beijing’s tragic repression of its own people, Congress should hold the Chinese government accountable when it violates internationally agreed upon codes of civilized behavior.”

Land cited a 1997 resolution adopted by SBC messengers that called for the U.S. government to “elevate religious liberty concerns to the highest priority in foreign policy” and urged Americans “to refrain from international trade, even at the risk of financial loss, with or in nations that practice religious persecution.”

The ERLC, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum and the U.S. Business and Industry Council signed on to a FRC letter to the members of Congress asking them to oppose PNTR for China. All had representatives at the news conference.

At the news conference, three other Republicans — Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey, Bob Ney of Ohio and Charlie Norwood of Georgia — expressed opposition to permanent trade status for China.

Ney and Norwood said they had voted in the past for temporary normal trade relations, formerly known as “most-favored-nation” status, but said China’s declining rights record caused them to change their minds.

“We can visit this down the road … , but this is not the time to bring China into the WTO,” Norwood said. “This nation will live to regret it.”

Other reasons given at the news conference for opposition to PNTR included China’s coercive abortion policy, its military build-up and increased threats toward Taiwan and the United States, and the likelihood of such status harming American workers and businesses.

Granting PNTR to China will embolden Beijing to take an even more aggressive stance toward Taiwan, warned Wei Jingsheng, a political prisoner for 19 years who was exiled to this country in 1997.

“Appeasing bullies does not work,” said Tom Minnery, vice president for public policy of Focus on the Family, which has had its program on state radio in China for the last 18 months. Granting PNTR to Beijing “is appeasement of the worst kind of bully.”

In addition to the support of big business, PNTR for China also is favored by some evangelical Christian leaders.