Clampdown sought on nations that persecute
Norman Kempster, Los Angeles Times
Friday, May 4, 2001
(c)2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Washington -- Pledging to make religious liberty "a guiding doctrine of our
foreign policy," President Bush said yesterday that China's persecution of
believers will thwart its aspiration to become a great power regardless of
advances in military and economic strength.
Reciting a catalog of religious repression, Bush also condemned abuses he
said are occurring in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan and the former
Soviet republics in central Asia.
In a speech to the American Jewish Committee, Bush put the White House
imprimatur on a campaign to stop the conduct of business as usual with
regimes that practice or condone religious persecution. His words paralleled
recommendations issued earlier this week by a bipartisan commission on
Bush's assessment of conditions in China is sure to increase Sino-American
tensions, already aggravated by the recent collision of a Chinese fighter
jet and a U.S. Navy spy plane, as well as U.S. plans to sell arms to Taiwan.
"China aspires to national strength and greatness," the president said in
prepared remarks. "But these acts of persecution are acts of fear and
therefore of weakness. This persecution is unworthy of all that China has
been -- a civilization with a history of tolerance. And this persecution is
unworthy of all that China should become -- an open society that respects
the spiritual dignity of its people."
Bush said that "intensifying attacks on religious freedom in China"
overshadow the advances Beijing has made in recent decades in economic
liberalization, improved personal mobility, more secure property rights and
increased access to information.
"We hear alarming reports of the detention of worshipers and religious
leaders," Bush said. "Churches and mosques have been vandalized or
demolished. Traditional religious practices in Tibet have long been the
target of especially harsh and unjust persecution. And most recently,
adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been singled out for
arrest and abuse."
Bush did not suggest economic or political sanctions against regimes that
persecute believers, although he pledged to focus international attention on
The annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
issued Monday called for banning companies that do business with abusive
regimes from raising money on U.S. capital markets. Such a provision could
cause severe economic disruption for offending countries.
Bush aimed his harshest rhetoric at Sudan, which is embroiled in an ethnic
and religious conflict between the government, which is dominated by Arab
Muslims, and rebels who are mostly black Christians and practitioners of
Bush said warplanes in Sudan continue to bomb churches, hospitals, schools
and relief sites and that conversion to Islam is sometimes made a condition
of receiving food assistance. He has directed Andrew Natsios, director of
Agency for International Development, to make sure humanitarian assistance
reaches the needy in Sudan without religious intimidation.