Testimony on Human Rights and MFN for China, June 18, 1996

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

Testimony Before Congress
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly

June 26, 1996

Chairman Smith and Members of the Committee:  

We welcome the opportunity to present testimony on the question of extending most favored nation trading status to China. For several years now this has been an annual exercise, with the President each year deciding in favor of extension and a significant part of the Congress voting either to deny MFN or condition its extension on certain improvements in the behavior of the Chinese government. 

The position of the United States Catholic Conference has been that successive U.S. Administrations should have taken--and the current one should take--much firmer steps than any so far has in seeking to encourage Chinese compliance with international norms on human rights and religious liberty. To this end, we have urged that MFN extension be tied to evidence that the Beijing regime has made genuine improvements in its performance on human rights and religious liberty. We do insist that every society, especially one that seeks to assume a role of leadership among the family of nations, treat its own citizens in a morally acceptable manner and behave responsibly in its dealings with the rest of the world. 

That means, in the case of China, that its disagreements with the people of Tibet be handled in ways other than by destroying the cultural foundations of the Tibetan people and manipulating the most profound religious traditions of that people, as was done in the matter of naming the next Panchen Lama. 

It means that the right of parents to make decisions about the size of their family be respected, not violated by "one-child-per-family" policies which use coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization. 

It means that the rights of workers be respected and that the principles of labor rights, including the basic right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively, be accorded the industrial and craft workers of China, a goal that today is not even on the horizon. 

It means that the forced labor of the detainees in the concentration camps called laogai be ended, and that no product of slave labor find its way onto the world market, as is still unfortunately the case today. 

Finally, it means that the growing interest in religion, and especially in Christianity, throughout China be respected, and that free religious activity be assured and not treated as a challenge to the security of the state. Although official discrimination against religious practice and persecution of church representatives are less today than in the 1950s and 1960s, it lately is seen to be worsening. Government behavior toward important segments of the Catholic and Protestant communities continues to be aggressive, at times brutal, and completely unacceptable. 

And so, it is on these issues of fundamental human rights--the rights of the Tibetan people and their religious and cultural traditions; the right of women and men to engender and care for their children without the oppression of the state; the rights of all workers and especially of those sent off to forced labor camps, usually for minor or technical infractions; and the rights of believers, especially Christians, to practice their faith as their conscience leads them--it is on these issues that we make our strongest plea to our government to exercise responsible leadership grounded in the moral and ethical principles that we as a people share. 

Mr. Chairman, I would like to say a few words specifically about the Catholic Church in China, partly to clarify misunderstandings that often surround popular or journalistic discussion of this issue. 

State control of internal church matters, such as the naming of bishops, is an unacceptable governmental intrusion into the life of the church. It is one which we earnestly hope will find, through negotiations between the Holy See and the Beijing government, a mutually satisfactory resolution in the not too distant future. Our chief concern here is the intolerance, amounting at times to oppression, of those believers who choose to express their faith outside the government-approved church structures. 

All faithful Christians, without exception, suffered horribly in the years immediately following the communist takeover in 1949 and again during the nightmare that was the Cultural Revolution. It is the "underground" Catholic Church, like the burgeoning Protestant "house churches," that continues to experience discrimination and suffer persecution. In just the last months, a priest in Shanghai was sentenced to two years of re-education through labor for preaching and administering the sacraments; Catholics who usually make pilgrimages during May to the Marian shrine in Donglu in the northern province of Hebei were this year prevented from doing so; and in the Wanxian diocese, in which large areas will be flooded next year if the Three Gorges project goes through on schedule, five churches will be innundated without any assistance from the government to re-locate, as is done with factories and other buildings. 

We must also sadly note that there has lately been a new crackdown on non-recognized sectors of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. Late last year, the Religious Affairs Bureau issued new circulars to local officials, requiring, among other things, that all places of worship be registered and imposing new restrictions on missionary activity. These new restrictions cannot be ignored or go unchallenged.

In addition to these new pressures from the central government, reports continue to come out of new detentions or house arrests of clergy, including some of the aged bishops of the underground church. The Diocese of Baoding in northern Hebei Province, a main base of the underground church, has borne the brunt of the persecution in the past and continues to suffer most from the present crackdown. 

There is a rapid growth of religious faith and practice in today's China, within both the open and the underground Catholic Church, among evangelical Christian groups, and in the traditional religions. This has apparently given rise to the fear of some in the government that religion could play a destabilizing role. 

The Buddhists of Tibet are accused of the political heresy of "splitism" and are now forbidden to display photographs of the Dalai Lama even in their homes; and Christians, partly because of the role that the Church has played in Poland and other European countries, are viewed as potential democracy activists and agitators for change. There is, of course, no comparison between the role and influence of the Church in the countries of Eastern Europe, where the Christian faith forms the foundation of the culture, and China, where members of the Christian churches have never been more than a tiny minority. 

And so, Mr. Chairman, the U.S. Catholic Conference objects strenuously to the interference of the state authority in the internal life of the Church throughout the country, and we protest most vigorously the very serious human rights violations, the barbaric treatment at times accorded to clergy, religious and faithful in some areas who choose not to join with their other Catholic brothers and sisters in accepting, however uncomfortably, that interference. 

Finally, permit me to say a word on the complexities of the divided Church in China. First of all, it is important to note that there are not two Catholic churches, nor is there a schismatic Church. The Catholic Church in China is wounded and internally divided and this results in pain and sadness for the whole Church. But as we protest the persecution of the "underground" Church and deplore the government interference with the "open" Church, we must witness, as the Holy Father has done, to the living faith of the whole Catholic community in China. In his visit to Manila in January 1995, Pope John Paul II addressed all the Catholics of China in a radio broadcast, urging them "to seek paths to communion and reconciliation." Again, last August, on receiving the Bishops of Taiwan during their ad limina visit to Rome, he repeated the call to reconciliation and urged the Taiwanese Bishops to do everything they could to "promote harmony, patience and understanding, fraternal love and reconciliation among all the Catholics of the great Chinese family..."

In recognition of the fact that the Catholics of the official church group openly pray for the Pope and confess publicly their unity with the Universal Church, the Holy Father expressed the longing of all the Church when he said: 

For my part, I know that the Catholic community throughout China, in union of faith with the rest of the Catholic Church, prays for the Pope, recognizing generally in this way the specific nature of the Petrine ministry as an essential aspect of Christ's will for his Church... If these brothers and sisters of ours already pray for the Pope and in some way recognize in him the special ministry of Peter, how much longer will it be before he can embrace them and confirm them in faith and unity? The situation of those belonging to the "Patriotic Association," as a recent Vatican document has pointed out, is very complex. We do the underground church group no favor by criticizing, still less by denouncing, the Catholics of the official church group. The Church in China would not be aided in its work of internal reconciliation by actions on the part of the United States government to penalize elements of the officially-recognized Church. 

To summarize, Mr. Chairman, there are important issues of human rights violations in present-day China, including restrictions of religious liberty and outright persecution of some religious groups, that our government should protest vigorously and constantly, publicly and in private, so that the Chinese authorities are under no illusion as to the seriousness of our position. One way of communicating that message is to condition the extension of most favored nation trading status upon marked improvement in the human rights area, and we urge the Congress to press this with the Administration. In the absence of serious legislative alternatives to denial of MFN, we oppose the renewal of MFN for the People's Republic of China at this time as the only real way to signal to our own government as well as the Chinese government the importance we attach to the denial of religious liberty and basic human rights.

Once again, Mr. Chairman, I wish to express our gratitude for your holding these important hearings and for receiving this testimony.