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Public outcry could slow ongoing human-rights violations in China.

A great opportunity was created in May when President Clinton renewed favorable trade conditions for China on the strict condition that China radically improve its record on human rights. Press and public can now focus the glare of publicity and outrage on the appalling things China continues to do to its own people.

Unlike President Bush, who twice vetoed attempts by Congress to improve China's performance on human rights, the Clinton White House made it clear that China will be placed in the penalty box on June 6, 1994, unless it releases its political prisoners, allows religious freedom, eases,.or ends its domination of Tibet, and in general observes the rights China agreed to observe when years ago it ratified the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights.

China has much to lose if it fails to amend its ways. Some $20 billion worth of toys and textiles exported annually to the United States will be subject to tariffs, China's bid for the Olympics in the year 2000 could be rejected, and the vast invasion of China by the West's megacorporations would be curtailed.

U.S. public opinion rather than any official action will determine the outcome. Asia Watch has lamented that the Clinton White House was not tougher on China. Likewise, all religious organizations monitoring China want to force an end to its savage and inhumane policies.

The U.S. Catholic, community has deep spiritual and emotional bonds with China because of the thousands of missionaries who did such heroic work there prior to their expulsion in 1949 with the fall of Peking. Why should the United States give trade benefits to a country in which the brutal treatment of religion has been a policy for over two generations? Why give concessions to a country that in 1951 annexed Tibet and has since intimidated and exploited the people of that country.?

There will be enormous pressure to continue the concessions. Lobbyists for the importers of goods manufactured in China will be vociferous. Corporations that import athletic shoes, silk fabrics and men's clothing from China and sell them at huge markups will try to outshout and outmaneuver the advocates of human rights.

That is why Americans, especially, the religious community, must raise the level of knowledge and outrage over what China has continued to do - despite some improvements since it massacred its young people in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

If anyone thinks Beijing has improved its rights record, the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, will correct that impression. If one thinks Tibet a special case, the stream of documents from Asia Watch, Amnesty International and other such groups will be sobering.

China continues to keep dozens of priests in jail, particularly priests loyal to the Holy See. In its 1992 report, Amnesty states some 50,000 people are sent each year to labor camps for up to four years without charge.

American public opinion can sometimes turn the tide of world events. International revulsion could induce the aging tyrants in Beijing to drop practices long deemed odious by the civilized nations of the Earth.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 16, 1993
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