- Baptist Press - https://www.baptistpress.com -

House again approves normal trade with China


WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to maintain normal trade relations with China, again dividing evangelical and pro-life members in the process.
The House voted 260-170 against a resolution that would have rejected President Clinton’s decision to renew what used to be called “most-favored-nation” status to the communist giant. Though the last year has brought reports of China spying on American nuclear labs and a Beijing crackdown against unapproved religious groups, opponents of favored trade relations with the world’s most populous country gained only four votes from 1998.
The president and congressional supporters of normal trade with China argue continuing such relations will escalate the pace of reform and bring freedom in the country, while aiding American businesses and workers. Opponents of normal trade relations cite China’s religious and other human rights repression, coercive abortion policy and nuclear espionage as reasons for holding Beijing accountable by rescinding the policy.
Representatives who are identified as Southern Baptists or evangelical Christians and normally are united in opposing religious persecution and abortion were split this time, as they were last year.
Among those supporting normal trade relations were Reps. Steve Largent, R.-Okla.; J.C. Watts, R.-Okla.; Jim Ryun, R.-Kan.; Tom DeLay, R.-Texas; Asa Hutchinson, R.-Ark.; Charles Canady, R.-Fla.; Ron Lewis, R.-Ky.; Roger Wicker, Miss.; Roy Blunt, R.-Mo.; and Jim Talent, R.-Mo.
Those voting to reject the policy included Reps. Tony Hall, D.-Ohio; Frank Wolf, R.-Va.; Tom Coburn, R.-Okla; Terry Everett, R.-Ala.; Jay Dickey, R.-Ark.; J.D. Hayworth, R.-Ariz.; Joe Scarborough, R.-Fla.,; and Chip Pickering, R.-Miss.
Watts, DeLay, Hutchinson, Lewis, Wicker, Blunt, Coburn, Everett, Hayworth, Scarborough and Pickering are members of Southern Baptist churches.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has opposed normal trade with China, with the agency’s president, Richard Land, saying “nations that want to be in normal, friendly, healthy relations with the United States should be nations that respect rather than trample upon the human rights of their citizens.”
Rep. Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., a Southern Baptist church member who is not pro-life, was a leader of the anti-trade effort, citing Beijing’s recent suppression of the eastern religious sect Falun Gong. “You tell me if they’re making progress,” the House minority leader said during floor debate, The Washington Post reported. “When will America finally stand up and say that the human rights Americans enjoy should be enjoyed by people all over the world?”
During floor debate, Rep. Tim Roemer, D.-Ind., spoke against isolating China, saying, according to The Washington Times: “Are we going to have constructive engagement with China or a new evil empire?”
Wolf shot back, The Times reported: “They are the evil empire. There are more gulags there than when [Soviet author Alexander] Solzhenitsyn wrote the book on the evil empire. There are Catholic bishops in jail. They have destroyed 4,000 monasteries. It’s basically the abortion capital of the world. I don’t understand why this isn’t a pro-life vote. It’s an issue of conscience.”
In a written statement after the vote, Clinton said maintaining the policy will help move China “toward global norms on human rights, weapons of mass destruction, crime and drugs, and the environment, as well as on trade. China clearly has far to go in all these areas, and we will continue to address our differences directly and protect our national interests.”
The White House hopes to help bring China into the World Trade Organization later this year and gain permanent trade status for the communist power. That will require congressional approval.
The vote divided not only ideological allies but political parties as well. Voting to rescind normal trade relations were 98 Democrats, 71 Republicans and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Voting to maintain the policy were 110 Democrats and 150 Republicans.
In April, the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom reported China’s persecution of Protestants and Roman Catholics had intensified since mid-1998. The State Department’s annual human rights report in February said the Chinese government has cracked down on members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic churches, especially in the provinces of Henan and Hebei.
In the last year, the following incidents have occurred, according to CFR: Unregistered Catholic priest Yan Weiping, 33, was apparently murdered; seminarian Wang Qing was arrested and tortured in Hebei; Catholic priest Peter HU Duo was arrested and received broken legs in police beatings in Hebei; and a Protestant woman in Henan was beaten by police and suffered brain damage.
In late May, police fought with 500 Christians in Xian in central China when members of a large church sought to protect it from being closed by authorities, Reuters America Inc. reported. As many as 3,000 people attend the church’s worship services, according to the Hong Kong-based Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.