WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to extend permanent normal trade relations to China means the Beijing communist government “has a free hand to continue and increase its pattern of persecution of Christians and other people of faith,” Southern Baptist Covention ethics agency head Richard Land said.
In one of Congress’ most significant and aggressively lobbied votes of the year, the House approved PNTR for China by a 237-197 margin May 24. If approved as expected by the Senate, it means the yearly battle over normal trade relations, previously “most-favored-nation” status, for China will end.
The issue resulted in an unusual amalgamation of allies on both sides. The House Republican leadership worked hard with President Clinton for the measure, which the White House had pushed for months. They were joined by big business, as well as some conservatives and evangelical Christians, in seeking approval. Meanwhile, some GOP conservatives and Democratic liberals joined forces to oppose the proposal. Some conservative Christians were allied with labor unions, as well as human rights, veterans and environmental organizations, to fight the bill.
The vote count was 164 Republicans and 73 Democrats in favor, with 57 Republicans, 138 Democrats and two independents opposed.
Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed disappointment the House “ignored the dismal human rights record of the Chinese government against its own citizens.”
He also was “dismayed” the House rejected the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. That panel, established by Congress and appointed by the president and congressional leadership, recommended in its inaugural report May 1 PNTR not be granted until Beijing made significant improvements in its religious rights record. Suppression of Christians and other religious adherents in China had increased in the last year, the commission reported.
Among the benchmarks the commission suggested for measuring such progress were the release of all religious prisoners and a new high-level dialogue with the United States on religious liberty. No evidence of such changes by the Chinese government was offered before the House vote.
The House-approved bill provides for a panel to monitor China’s human rights and trade practices. That measure’s inclusion was helpful in convincing some representatives to vote for PNTR.
Land encouraged Christians “to renew their resolve to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in China who find disfavor in the eyes of the Chinese government and who will continue to be persecuted for their faith. Our prayers and pleas for their safety and liberty should not be stilled but intensified with this action by the U.S. government.”
Other concerns cited by opponents of PNTR were numerous human rights abuses, including coercive abortion and sterilization, as well as China’s military build-up and increased threats toward Taiwan and the United States; possible harm to American workers and businesses; and pollution in the world’s most populous country.
“The United States is supposed to be a champion for liberty, justice and freedom around the world,” said Janet Parsahll, spokesperson for the Family Research Council, in a written release. “The people of China are not free, and the House’s vote for PNTR has just jeopardized freedom in China even more by forfeiting the leverage of an annual review of Beijing’s abuses against its people. Free markets are important but not at the price of free people.”
The president and House GOP leaders argued free markets produced by PNTR and Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization would lead not only to more American exports to China but to increased liberty for the Chinese.
The United States will export “more than our products,” Clinton said after the vote. It will export “one of our most cherished values, economic freedom,” he said. “Bringing China into the WTO and normalizing trade will strengthen those who fight for the environment, for labor standards, for human rights, for the rule of law.”
Rep. J.C. Watts, R.-Okla., chairman of the House Republican Conference and a member of a Southern Baptist church, said in a written statement, “The dictators in Beijing may or may not realize what capitalism can do, but free trade with America may do to communist China what glasnost did to the Soviet Union. By tearing trade walls down, capitalist forces will encourage democratic reform and make China comparatively peaceful and free.”
In addition to the ERLC and FRC, other opponents of the trade bill include the AFL-CIO, Focus on the Family, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Concerned Women for America, Amnesty International USA, Eagle Forum, U.S. Business and Industry Council and the Sierra Club.