Magazine article The Christian Century

Split Views on Clinton's China Trip

Magazine article The Christian Century

Split Views on Clinton's China Trip

Article excerpt

American religious leaders split along generally predictable lines in assessing President Clinton's performance in China and the comments on human right she made there. Remarks by conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson provided the only surprise.

Clinton's nine-day visit ended July 3. While there, the president, speaking to students at Beijing University and the Chinese public via a live television broadcast, called personal freedom the "mandate of the new century" and a requisite for human and economic development. Those and other such comments drew reluctant praise July 7 from the president's Republican congressional opponents. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), while critical of Clinton for his remarks on Taiwan, said the human rights comments should win support in the Congress for the president's effort to again gain "most favored nation" trading status for China.

American religious opinion on U.S. policy toward China is divided. Moderate and liberal groups tend to support Clinton's belief that full U.S. engagement tempered by diplomatically acceptable criticism of the often harsh limitations Beijing imposes on religious and political freedoms is the best way to encourage greater democracy in China. More conservative groups tend to be highly critical of White House China policy, saying trade issues have been elevated above basic human rights and that Chinese Christians who buck their government's rigid rules on religious expression are among those most persecuted by Beijing. These groups have urged Clinton to be more forceful in his condemnation of Chinese policies. Assessments of the Clinton China trip generally split along those lines.

For example, Victor Hsu, the National Council of Churches' director for East Asia and the Pacific, called Clinton's visit "quite successful." The NCC, which has 34 mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian member denominations, has consistently supported the president's China policy, arguing that additional confrontation would create a backlash in China that would have most impact on the very religious believers and political dissidents conservative critics say must be helped. "Whether one likes it or not, China is a major power with great influence in the world. It is very important for us to keep talking to China regardless of the issue," said Hsu. "A policy of constructive engagement is best. There is nothing to be gained by second-guessing what the president might have said better. …

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