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Mixed messages from Beijing: a survey.

The Vatican was expelled from China in 1951, and has had no diplomatic ties with Beijing since. The two have not been able to re-establish relations owing to China's insistence that the Vatican must sever ties with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, and that the Vatican must cede control of the appointment of bishops to Beijing. As a consequence of this impasse, the Church in China has been split between the underground Catholics faithful to Rome (an estimated 8 million people) and the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (approximately 5 million adherents) governed from Beijing.

In recent months, the Vatican has indicated again its desire for a thaw in their relationship. In August 2005, Pope Benedict XVI received 28 clerics from China's officially recognized church. Then, in October, Cardinal Angelo Sodano indicated the Vatican may be willing to bend on the issue of Taiwan as well. "Our nunciature in Taipei is the nunciature in China and if Beijing agrees, we can move it to Beijing" (Nat. Post, Nov. 1, 2005).

In June 2005, the Vatican and Beijing jointly approved the appointment of 42-year-old Msgr. Joseph Xing Wenzhi as bishop of Shanghai and Msgr. Paul HeZeqing, 37, bishop of Wanxian. For China this provides a "single point of reference for both churches." For the Vatican the acceptance by Beijing of a bishop appointed by the Holy See indicates China's acknowledgement that ties between the Vatican and a bishop "do not signify unwarranted interference in China's internal affairs" (Asia News, July 14, 2005).

Persecution continues

The prognosis for religious freedom and unity in China remains in doubt, however, in spite of this co-operation. Chinese authorities followed up Pope Benedict's visit with the 28 state-approved clerics with a refusal to allow four bishops to attend the Roman Synod on the Eucharist in October 2005.

Putting up resistance to their attendance was Liu Bainian, chairman of the Patriotic Church, who protested the continued ties with Taiwan and the lack of consultation prior to issuing the invitation.

Meanwhile, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of clerics continue apace in China. In July 2005, officials of Fujian province interrupted Catholics gathered to pray for a fellow parishioner, beating them severely and arresting the priest and nine others (Zenit, July 29, 2005). Also in July, Bishop Guo of a diocese in Hebei province was arrested for the sixth time in 18 months. Prior to these arrests, the bishop had endured two decades of imprisonment and strict surveillance when out of prison. Stories of persecution are many, the latest of which occurred November 18 when six Catholic priests of Zhengding province in Hebei were arrested, two of them beaten, says a watchdog group.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report released in November 2005, "the Chinese government systematically violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, contravening both the Chinese Constitution and international human rights norms" (Zenit, Nov. 19, 2005).

The Cardinal Kung Foundation reported that Frs. Wang Jin Shen and Gao Lingshen, both 50, were severely beaten after their arrest. Fr. Lingshen bled profusely from the mouth. All those arrested belong to the underground Catholic Church (Zenit, Nov. 29, 2005).

China and human rights

In fact, human rights--religious or otherwise--remain severely restricted in China. The United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China, formed in 2000 to monitor human rights in China reports, "Citizens who challenge state controls on religion, speech, or assembly continue to face severe government repression" (Zenit, Nov. 19, 2005).

Despite claims by Chinese authorities that only financial incentives, i.e. fines, are used to enforce its barbaric One Child Policy, forced abortions and sterilizations continue unabated. Often incentives take the form of detaining the pregnant woman's relatives until "consent" to an abortion is obtained. To encourage local coercion, Communist Party officials can still be promoted or punished on the basis of meeting population quotas in their region (LifeSiteNews, Oct. 26, 2005).

In other efforts to maintain control through intimidation and terror, China continues to imprison and execute thousands. Western human rights monitors estimate that the Chinese authorities execute about 15,000 persons annually. In addition to the high number of death penalties, China's legal system makes use of typical communist methods to exercise control: torture, police-run "mental hospitals" and labour camps where "re-education" takes place (LifeSiteNews, Nov. 3, 2005).

In September 2005, Chinese authorities imposed more restrictions on all news media in an attempt to police the Internet, a dominant source of news for urban Chinese. Search engines and portals must make available only government-generated or government-approved opinion pieces; private individuals or groups must register with the government as news organizations before they can operate e-mail distribution lists that spread news or commentary.

Worried that the high-level encryption technology in the BlackBerrys could make it difficult for authorities to monitor e-mail exchanges, the Chinese government has stalled negotiations with Research in Motion (RIM), the company that produces them, for more than a year (Globe &Mail, Sept. 26, 27; Nov. 9, 2005).

Canada's response

What is Canada doing to ensure Chinese authorities respect basic human rights? The short answer is: trade and political correctness trump human rights. China is Canada's third-largest trading partner, a fact Chinese officials in Canada never fail to exploit in their efforts to influence decisions by politicians at all three levels of government. According to Toronto Councilor Michael Walker, "They've written letters, put pressure on us suggesting that we might jeopardize business deals," over issues such as the Dalai Lama's visit, the sale of Candu reactors (unsuccessful), a Bombardier rail link to Tibet (successful), a loan of pandas for the Toronto zoo (under negotiation), and even over invitations to Toronto politicians being invited to a Chinese New Year's party (Globe & Mail, Aug. 6, 2005).

When Conservative MP Jim Abbott introduced a private member's bill in April 2005 to upgrade Canada's relations with Taiwan, the reaction from the Chinese embassy was scathing (Globe & Mail, May 10, 2005). Referring to the bill as "brazen interference" in Chinese affairs, it appeared like an attempt to glare down any challenge to its power.

Despite China's attempts to influence elected officials in Canada and its industrial espionage, Canada provides aid to China through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) notwithstanding the fact that China's economy is booming, and it does not fit our criteria for foreign aid. This, according to a policy change announced in March, 2005, should go to countries with a "strong civil service, good laws enforced by an independent judiciary, a respect for human rights and an aversion to corruption."

On August 5, 2005, the Canadian government deported to China Falun Gong practitioner, Xiaoping Hu, over the protests of thousands of Canadians, including NGOs and MPs and despite the fact that she will almost certainly face arrest when she returns. Prior to her arrival in Canada, Ms. Hu had been detained in a brainwashing centre and forced to renounce her beliefs. She later retracted her "conversion" on a website set up for that purpose (Epoch Times, Aug. 11, 2005).

Comment: What should Canada be doing?

The Canadian government should recognize China for the bully it is and call its bluff." As was pointed out by MP Jim Abbott, when the Canadian government carries out policies toward Taiwan in spite of Chinese opposition--such as its support of Taiwan's membership in the World Health Organization--the Chinese back down (Globe & Mail, May 10, 2005).

We should offer safe haven to members of Falun Gong.

Our government should push for resolutions at the United Nations criticizing China's human rights record. To date China has not been confronted on this matter by any of the U.N. agencies, including the Human

Rights Commission.

Finally, it should publicize events in China, such as the current mass exodus from the Chinese Communist Party--5 million people in the last year--until the Canadian public demands better coverage of Chinese affairs from the mainstream media.
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Title Annotation:China
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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