Letter to Secretary of State Christopher on Religious Liberty, May 17, 1994

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

May 17, 1994  

The Honorable Warren
Christopher  Secretary of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520 

Re: Religious Liberty in China. 

Dear Mr. Secretary: 

With a decision on U.S. policy towards human rights policy in the People's Republic of China drawing near, I am writing to express concern for the lack of improvement, and in some cases serious deterioration, in matter of religious liberty in China during the last year. 

This conference supported conditioning MFN for China on human rights performance and we continue to insist that human rights be an essential dimension of US foreign policy in our relation to China. U.S. policy must not ignore or downplay abuses of human rights in the PRC. 

In deciding this complex issue, I urge you to be guided by three criteria: 

  1. the assessment of China's human rights policy must be honest and clear;
  2. the U.S. must continue to hold China to the observance of international standards of human rights and religious liberty; and 
  3. there must be a real and significant price to be paid for violations of human rights including offenses against religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

First, a word about the religious situation in China. While we know the conditions of freedom and persecution in China differ from region to region and there have been developments recently which some regard as improvements, our information is that new legislation has made life much more difficult for believers at large. This is especially so for city dwellers. Techniques vary, but there has been a significant rise in harassment in recent months, including reports of new arrests and other forms of detention for bishops and priests.

Furthermore, for us as Catholics, for whom participation in a universal church is an essential part of church life, restrictions on the free interaction of the faithful in China with those elsewhere is a grave impediment on religious liberty. Lack of progress on normalization of relations between the PRC and the Holy See is a symptom of a wider phenomenon of prohibiting international church ties which has intensified since government decrees last January. 

Religious liberty remains a primary human rights issue for our episcopal conference. Just as we defended the rights of Jews and Christians in the former Soviet Union during the seventies and eighties, in the nineties we will stand by the rights of Buddhists in Tibet and evangelicals as well as Catholics in China. We sincerely hope the Administration will stand with us on this issue. Firmness at this time will be essential to the progress of human rights and democracy in China today. 

There is no underestimating the significance and the complexity of the practical decision facing the Administration on Chinese human rights in coming weeks. For the future of human rights and for the credibility of U.S. diplomacy, it is vitally important that whatever is done the Administration be clear and forthright about Chinese non-performance and evasion on these issues. No effort should be made to find progress which is not there or to ignore serious violations that continue to persist. There must be no compromise with the truth. 

Furthermore, the continued maintenance of international standards on human rights and liberty for China is absolutely necessary. We would be alarmed and would vigorously oppose a policy which diluted the standards to which the US would hold China in the years ahead. 

As you decide on the penalty for past and current performance, candidness about the record and a firm commitment to human rights and religious liberty is essential to an American policy which will have moral legitimacy. Trade alone is not a human rights policy. A nation without values must stand for something more. History gives ample evidence of authoritarian, nationalist and fascist regimes where business has and does flourish. The common good of humanity requires that US policy stand up for the rights of those victimized and oppressed by their own governments. 

Finally, the penalties for violations of human rights and repression of religious liberty must be real and serious, not symbolic and illusory. But we believe that some serious price must be paid for violation of fundamental rights. Having said we will hold China to this standard, we cannot abandon our commitment. 

We look forward to hearing from you on this issue. The President's deliberations and those of you and your colleagues will be in our prayers. 

Sincerely yours,  

Most Reverend Daniel P. Reilly 
Bishop of Norwich
Chair, USCC Committee on International Policy