In Beijing, the U.S.´ Bark Lacks Bite

Interview with Director of Center for Religious Freedom

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NEW YORK, FEB. 24, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- The United States may seem like a paper tiger to Beijing, at least on the issue of human rights.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom of Washington, D.C., commented on President George W. Bush´s visit to China and his request to the Chinese government to establish direct relations with the Vatican.

«Bush´s request to Jiang Zemin to listen to the Vatican´s appeal and release the Catholic bishops incarcerated in Chinese prisons has undeniable political value,» said Shea. «But the United States has very little power when it comes to China to be able to impose respect for human rights.»

Q: What makes you think that the Chinese authorities will not be impressed by Bush´s words?

Shea: The simple fact that the United States has no way of sanctioning China, should it not respect human rights.

We had a card to play, the one of international trade, and we played it prematurely. When Clinton promoted China to the permanent status of favored nation in commercial exchanges in 2000, the weapon of the annual examination of human rights in the country was removed from Congress, on which trade relations with China depended. Now the only thing the United States can do is talk.

Q: Useless words?

Shea: No. It is important to continue talking, that Chinese authorities know what is expected of a country that aspires to be treated as an equal by the world economic powers.

In fact, we have proofs that the Chinese leaders were impressed by Bush´s commitment to human rights expressed in the Shanghai meeting last October. However, it is frustrating to see that many countries, like the United States but also Europe, have already begun to treat China as a rightful member of the international community, before noting progress in respect for human rights and religious liberty.

Q: Do you think that China´s entry into the World Trade Organization might help to have its policies capture the attention of the international community?

Shea: From many sides it was said that to accept China in the WTO, as well as to give Beijing the 2008 Olympics, would have had a humanizing effect in the country. However, it has not been like this. Our last report on religious liberty in China, issued a few days ago, reveals unequivocally that things have worsened. In the last months the state has intensified the persecution of religions that it cannot control.

Q: Is it anticipated that China will make some gesture of opening, following Bush´s visit? For example, could it give signs of religious tolerance to the rest of the world?

Shea: Perhaps, but even if it released some of the very many arrested religious leaders, some of whom are on death´s row accused of threatening national security, others will immediately take their place. It is as if Chinese prisons had revolving doors.

Things will not really change until the Chinese state ceases to arrogate to itself the right to determine doctrine, define religious orthodoxy, and appoint religious leaders, in direct violation of international mandates for respect of human rights which it has signed.

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