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House, Bush send signals to China on rights abuses

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives and President Bush have signaled to China’s Communist regime its violations of religious liberty and other human rights will not be forgotten as the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing nears.

The House voted 419-1 in support of a resolution calling on China to ends its human rights abuses before the Olympics, which open officially Aug. 8. That July 30 vote by the House followed by a day a White House meeting Bush had with five Chinese freedom advocates.

Both actions received strong criticism from China’s Foreign Ministry.

With Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas the sole opponent, the House measure urged Beijing to take numerous, immediate steps to correct its human rights record. The resolution included calls not only for a halt to the government’s abuses of its citizens’ human rights, including its coercive, one-child population control policy, but its support for the repressive regimes of Sudan and Burma. It also urged the release of prisoners of conscience. It said China should take these actions so the Olympics will occur “in an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness.”

The House resolution also called on Bush to take specific steps, including giving speeches on China’s human rights record before he leaves the United States for the opening ceremonies and while he is in Beijing.

China’s role as host of the Olympics has not produced greater freedom, as was claimed when the games were awarded to Beijing, but greater oppression, some House members said during floor speeches before the vote.

“Tragically but predictably, the Olympics have been the occasion of a massive crackdown designed to silence and put beyond reach all those Chinese whose views differ from the government line,” Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., told colleagues. “For so many brave Chinese men and women, for the Tibetans, many of them Buddhist monks and nuns, for members of Falun Gong, Chinese Christians, Uighur Muslims, democracy and labor activists and others, this has been a terrible summer, not in spite of but precisely because of the Olympic Games.”

Smith had joined Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Jim McGovern, D.-Mass., in a July 24 letter to Bush requesting he meet with Chinese human rights and religious freedom leaders before his trip to China. The president responded by meeting July 29 with the five people the congressmen had recommended to him.

After the meeting in the White House residence, Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a written statement Bush told his Chinese guests “he will carry the message of freedom” on his trip to Beijing, as he has in the past in speaking with China’s leaders. “He told the activists that engagement with Chinese leaders gives him an opportunity to make the United States’ position clear -– human rights and religious freedom should not be denied to anyone,” she said.

While in Beijing, Bush plans to attend a worship service in a Chinese church and make a statement afterward, China Aid Association President Bob Fu told Baptist Press. A leading advocate for the persecuted church, Fu is one of the freedom activists who met with the president.

A member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) told BP the White House meeting was important but not sufficient.

It is “the first step,” Nina Shea said after a July 30 news conference in the Capitol on China’s human rights record. “But it’s not enough. President Bush needs to raise these issues in a very public way in China, because China more than anything wants to be seen as a world power. And the free world has to firmly signal that human rights repression, religious persecution is disqualifying for any government to be a world leader. China is developing economically, but it is not opening up politically or in human rights terms and religious freedom terms.

“The Olympics [are] another opportunity to tell China that it has obligations not to imprison or torture its religious people, its religious leaders,” she told BP. “So we need to speak out, and we need to be clear about it. We should use whatever leverage remains to us in the Olympics to do so.”

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry voiced “strong discontent” with the White House meeting.

“By arranging such a meeting between its leader and these people and making irresponsible remarks on China’s human rights and religious situation, the U.S. side has rudely interfered in China’s internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to the anti-China hostile forces,” Liu Jianchao said, according to Xinhua News Agency, the official news service of the Chinese government.

He also criticized the House resolution, saying it was offered “by a handful of anti-China congressmen.”

“This action itself is a blasphemy to the spirit of the Olympics and runs counter to the aspiration of people of all countries, including the U.S.,” he said in a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

USCIRF cited the following examples of China’s recent crackdown on religious rights during the July 30 news conference it cosponsored with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus:

— Nearly 700 Protestant leaders who are not registered with the government have been placed in custody in the last year.

— More than 30 Catholic bishops and priests remain under arrest.

— Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns remain in jail or are unaccounted for after the government’s March crackdown on their peaceful protests.

— Police still oppress and detain followers of Falun Gong, a meditation sect, and Uighur Muslims, who live in the northwest part of the country.

In addition to Fu, the human rights leaders who met with Bush in the White House are Wei Jingsheng, a dissident who spent nearly 20 years in prison; Harry Wu, who was imprisoned for 19 years in labor camps; Rebiya Kadeer, an advocate for the Uighur Muslims who was an inmate for five years, and Sasha Gong, who established an underground group of dissidents and served a year in jail.

In a 2005 visit to China, Bush participated in a worship service at a registered church and said in a public statement afterward he desired for the Communist government not to fear religious adherents.

USCIRF advises the White House and Congress on the condition of religious liberty in other countries. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is a USCIRF commissioner.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.