Statement on Religious Liberty in China, May 24, 1994

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

China Shows No Improvement on Religious Liberty 

A Statement by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference
May 24, 1994 

Religious liberty is one of the measures by which President Clinton has promised to judge whether there is "overall, significant improvement" in the human rights performance of the People's Republic of China. Candor demands that the Administration report that far from showing improvement, religious repression on the part of Chinese authorities has intensified in recent months. 

In February, for example, the government published two decrees restricting religious activity by foreigners and forbidding links between Chinese believers and foreign co-religionists. For us as American Catholics, members of a worldwide communion, these prohibitions affect us as well as our Chinese brothers and sisters in faith. Coming on the top of the deadlock in talks on normalization of relations with the Holy See, they represent a serious curtailment of our life as a church.

Moreover, while there are some bright spots, such as the seminarians from Shanghai studying in the US, the overall pattern of government behavior has been a cycle of evasive feints at reform followed by renewed persecution. Only last week (Saturday, May 14) the Washington Post reported the publication of several more laws which give police broad powers in punishing political dissidents and religious activists without any judicial process. The implementation of such laws demonstrates within weeks of the U.S. decision on MFN just how serious the government campaign against religion is. 

Communist party leaders demonstrate a special enmity for organized religion. Maoism may be gone; but totalitarianism endures. As the exiled Jesuit bishop of Canton, Dominic Tang, explains, "The party's claim extends far beyond the natural demand of governments for loyalty and patriotism. In short, the government claims authority over each Chinese soul. And it reserves its special venom towards those whose rejection of this claim has any institution behind it." 

The persecution of religious believers, of Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese evangelicals as well as Roman Catholics is too great a price to pay for improved trade. Religious believers are subject to continuous harassment and intimidation aimed at assuring state control over unofficial religious activities. Religious persecution was too high a price for Russian Jews and Lithuanian Catholics to pay in the 1970s for detente; it is too high a price for us to allow Chinese and Tibetan believers to pay today. 

In a pattern of repression, bishops, clerics, monks, nuns and laypeople are detained for short periods and released. Others are released from prison only to find themselves confined to nursing homes where they die from mistreatment and even torture. The government reports still other religious prisoners as released only to have them disappear without a trace. 

Short term releases, paper promises and low-cost and probably short-term concessions do not count as "overall, significant progress" by Chinese authorities in the area of religious liberty. 

U.S. policy towards extensive violations of human rights in China is at a moment of truth. Trade alone will not transform Communist behavior; more than constructive engagement is necessary. 

We urge President Clinton and the leaders of Congress to be candid about the gravity of Chinese oppression of believers, workers, and political dissidents. We fully expect that the US will continue to hold China to strict international standards in respect for human rights and religious liberty, and we strongly support the application of significant economic penalties on China for repeated and recently intensified violations of those rights.