Blind Faith - Is State department soft on China?
Friday, 25 October 2002

By Ann Noonan

Has the State Department sent a signal to Beijing that it will
downplay concerns over China's notorious and ongoing abuse of believers? That's something U.S.-based defenders of a wide array of hounded and hunted Chinese groups - from "underground" Catholics allied to the Vatican to Falun Gong practitioners - want answered.

Concerns over an apparent Foggy Bottom policy shift were prompted two weeks ago, when John Hanford, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told a congressional committee that Chinese officials are willing to permit their young to participate in religious Sunday schools and youth camps.

Given the reality of the PRC's official and often-brutal campaign and policies against believers, Hanford's comments (at the House Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights' hearing on the department's 2002 International Religious Freedom Report) took aback the regime's critics, who expect the State Department to challenge PRC claims - about Sunday school or anything else - without overwhelming evidence.

With Hanford's testimony coming just two weeks before premier Jiang Zemin's visit to the U.S., the mood among activists was disappointment over a lost opportunity, and confusion as to whether the State Department was glossing over the PRC's ugly record.

Admittedly, in other parts of Hanford's testimony, and in the
department's religious-freedom report, China's abuses were cited. But in both politics and international affairs, perception is reality, and the perception created by Hanford's odd juxtaposition of the terrible abuses with the alleged "Sunday school" claims is that China has started to turn a corner on persecution.

It hasn't. With Premier Jiang now in the U.S., Congress and the
American people need to know that there is no let-up in the suffering of Chinese people of faith. And why should it, since religious persecution is official PRC policy.

China's well-publicized Central Communist Party pronouncements last December at the National Religious Working Conference in Beijing detailed how the PRC will deal with China's "religious problem." That conference outlined the PRC's policy of strict control and regulation of people of faith throughout China.

Contrary to the Ambassador Hanford's statement, there is absolutely nothing in the PRC's treatment of adults or children to suggest that any change is occurring, or is even in sight. Rather, the lives of those who practice religion in China are threatened by ever intensifying persecution.

For example: The Zenit Catholic News Agency reported this July on how five adults and 25 children in southeastern China were arrested for studying the Catholic catechism. The story told of the arrest of children, ages 10-16, who received the catechesis on July 21 in the village of Dongan, in the Lianjiang district of Fujian province.

Or: The Committee for the Investigation of Religious Persecution in China is currently circulating a petition for a Christian seeking asylum which states "On June 2, this year, because of joining the Shouter Group and attending "Fukien Youth Offering Training Course [in Fukien - Chuen Chau] 31 people were arrested for organizing a training meeting for the youth." The group has detailed how "Christian pastors - even from the official church - cannot freely baptize any truly confessed believers under 18 years old
without losing their pastoral positions."

Or: The Michigan-based Gospel Communications International reports. It is estimated that there are about 500 million children in China. Every day at school and college they are taught that God does not exist and that to believe in Jesus is superstitious and unpatriotic. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be taught from the Bible or encouraged to put their faith in God. It is also illegal to print any Christian literature for children.

Even State's International Religious Freedom Report this year
details: "In areas where ethnic unrest has occurred, especially among the Uighurs in Xingjing, officials continued to restrict the building of mosques and prohibited the teaching of Islam to children."

Let's pile on: The Falun Dafa Information Center's website has one section dedicated to "Teenage Students Abused and Tortured." It reads:

Currently all students who do not renounce their belief in Falun
Gong and issue a written statement to this effect are expelled from school. This directive includes elementary school children all the way up to highly educated students in University programs.

And then: Religious Sunday school and youth camps in PRC are contrary to Article 34 of China's own constitution which does not extend the right of freedom of religious belief to people under the age of 18. China does not allow religious teaching in schools. China's constitutional provisions are applied uniformly; provinces do not have the power to override the rules set by Beijing.

That is a staggering record of abuse and hostility to religious
education of children. Hence the incredulence of religious-freedom activists over the U.S. giving any - any - official credence to China's undoubtedly bogus claims.

Emily Kutolowski from Friends of Falun Gong USA has recognized Ambassador Hanford for doing "very good, important work." But she says her organization is concerned "that he has seemed to put forth little effort with regard to ensuring the rights of unregistered or unofficial groups that are being persecuted, such as Falun Gong and underground house churches. In fact, he seemed to somehow accept the Chinese government's declaration of
these groups as illegal, though they are widely accepted and supported elsewhere."

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith's assessment of the current situation in China is very clear: "The state of religious freedom in China remains abysmal. Millions of Chinese who choose to practice Christianity, Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, or adhere to the principles of Falun Gong are forced to live in fear of government persecution."

"I have traveled to China three times," Smith says, "and I have met with religious leaders who have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Religious persecution is systematic, because the morally and ideologically bankrupt Beijing dictatorship is inherently threatened by any mass organization or belief system that is not under their total and immediate control."

He didn't learn that in a regime "Sunday school."

Despite the PRC's claims, millions of youth and adults in China are deprived the universal right to worship. The U.S. State Department should at least be honest and acknowledge in detail information it has about the current situation of religious persecution in China. Americans don't want the issue sugar-coated nor to be protected from the truth no matter how harsh it may be.

China's Communists can engage in deception. That's their job. It's our responsibility, however, to see through the duplicitous nature of foreign officials when we know there is little basis to believe whatever they may promise.

- Ann Noonan is policy director for the Laogai Research Foundation. For more on religious persecution in China, click here.

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