WASHINGTON (BP)–For Republican Congressman Zach Wamp, the only successful trip by President Bush to China for the Olympics will be one in which he uses the “bully pulpit of the White House.”
A Southern Baptist, Wamp repeated to Baptist Press July 30 a plea he said he made previously in a face-to-face conversation with Bush. He urged the president to make sure the Chinese leaders don’t think his presence at the games in Beijing means “we condone or accept or will allow frankly, as a leader in the world, things on the ground in China to continue as they are, because human rights, individual freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of the press frankly are still non-existent in a country that wants to convince the world that they have reformed,” Wamp said.
Wamp made his comments to BP after he spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference putting the spotlight on the repressive practices of China’s Communist regime leading to the Olympics, which begin officially Aug. 8. About two and a half hours later, the House of Representatives voted 419-1 for a resolution calling on China to halt its human rights abuses before the games. A day earlier, Bush had met in the White House with Chinese human rights and religious freedom defenders, including Harry Wu and Bob Fu.
Wamp, a member of Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga, is serving his seventh term as a representative of the Third District of Tennessee.
Here is an edited transcript of Baptist Press’ interview with Wamp.
BAPTIST PRESS: Did I understand [Democratic] Congressman [Jim] McGovern to say [in the news conference] that the House is going to vote on the resolution this afternoon?
WAMP: I think so…. [D]efinitely one of my motivating factors here is freedom of religion, because it really is nonexistent…. Unfortunately, China, all the way back to the transition in Hong Kong, puts on a good face, tries to convince the world that they are pro-freedom and democracy, when in fact the reality on the ground is the Communist Party leadership still rules with an iron fist and you cannot speak out and you cannot be an active citizen for fundamental tenets…. [P]laces like China … say, “Oh, we’re for free enterprise; we’re for capitalism.” But they’re not willing to accept any of the responsibilities that go along with that kind of freedom. And as a result, people are going to look at the Olympics and say, “Wow, China has changed.” But if you’re on the ground and a citizen of China…, it hasn’t changed at all. As a matter of fact, your life is still very much at risk if you speak out for the things you believe in in China.
BAPTIST PRESS: How important is it that the House address this issue, speak out before the Olympics?
WAMP: Well, let me tell you, I think it’s important that we do it, but I think it’s important that we do it in a bipartisan way so this is not the Democrats against President Bush or vice versa. I mean really this is a bipartisan issue…. I mean I think some of the Democrats are doing it for trade reasons. Some of the Republicans are doing it for freedom of religion and individual rights issues. But whatever their motives, it does bring the House together. And I think it’s important we do it in a bipartisan way. And unfortunately when I talked to the president about this, the decision to go had already been made, and he wasn’t going to change his policy. And I said, “Well, I hope, Mr. President, that when you go that you will use the bully pulpit of the White House in a very influential way to try to let the leadership of China know that just because we’re participating and just because you’re there for the opening ceremonies in no way means that we condone or accept or will allow frankly, as a leader in the world, things on the ground in China to continue as they are, because human rights, individual freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of the press frankly are still non-existent in a country that wants to convince the world that they have reformed.”
BAPTIST PRESS: This meeting yesterday that I understand the president had with Bob Fu and Harry Wu and some of the others — how helpful or significant is that?
WAMP: [I]t can always be helpful and significant, and I’m grateful that frankly before [President Bush] goes he’s willing to listen to others instead of just being stubborn and saying, “I know what’s best,” because we know that presidents sometimes are in a vacuum. All presidents sometimes are in a vacuum. They are controlled by their handlers; they’re told the things sometimes that they want to hear. They need to hear what we hear in these hearings…. We’ve had Harry Wu come in and talk to us for two hours about what’s happening in China. And I hope the president hears those things before he goes so that that will be in his mind and on his heart whenever he has a chance to say anything of value to the leaders as he goes to China.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.