Magazine article The Christian Century

China Cited for Persecution

Magazine article The Christian Century

China Cited for Persecution

Article excerpt

The U.S. State Department has singled out five countries that it says are violating religious freedom, but only one of the five, China, is likely to face any possibility of sanctions. The five nations--China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar (Burma) and Sudan--are the first to be designated under the Religious Freedom Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton last year and which demands sanctions against nations found to be engaging in "severe violations of religious freedom."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has yet to decide what sanctions should apply. The sanctions could range from a formal diplomatic rebuke to the suspension of economic assistance. Serbia and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan were named as "particularly severe violators" of religious freedom, but, according to the State Department, neither is a sovereign nation.

The U.S. is not in a position, however, to take practical action against most of the designated nations since the new law does not provide for sanctions against countries with which it has no formal relations. This is the case with Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan, and relations with Myanmar and Sudan are minimal.

State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters that the U.S. should not be prevented from identifying problems with "countries that are violating religious freedom just because [it] does not have ties with them ... shining a spotlight on abuses [is] an important part of the process of promoting human rights. To the extent that this report can help do that, that will be a good step."

Sanctions could be imposed against China, but it is far from certain that any severe sanctions will be applied. Though the Clinton administration has in the past criticized Beijing's human rights record, it has put a priority on good diplomatic and economic relations with China.

On October 6 Robert Seiple, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, told the House of Representatives that religious practice in China is far more widespread than it was 30 years ago and that "millions of religious adherents in many parts of China, including Buddhists and Muslims, as well as Catholics and Protestants belonging to the `official' Chinese Christian churches, worship with little governmental interference."

However, Seiple also spoke of continuing "serious and significant problems" in China, including government-imposed registration requirements for Protestants and Catholics; the harassment and arrest of some Protestant and Catholic clergy; and the disappearance of underground Catholic Bishop Su Zhimin of Hebei province. …

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