LONDON: The mainland has problems on all fronts in the newmillennium as it confronts economic troubles, continued tension with Taiwan,and the repression of the Falun Gong group, according to the InternationalInstitute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.
``President Jiang Zemin encountered a series of disparate and perhapsunpredictable political problems during 1999.
``Although individually none was enough to challenge the regime's capacity torule, each illustrated China's deep and continuing weaknesses,'' said theLondon-based IISS in its annual report.
The group said Beijing was ``uneasy with the outside world and with its ownsociety''.
Mr Jiang's uneasiness is evident in his provocation of Taiwan, with the numberof military threats against the island multiplying before the island's March 18presidential elections, the report said.
Beijing has threatened to invade Taiwan if it declares independence, isinvaded by a foreign force or if it rebuffs dialogue on reunification indefinitely.
The mainland's threats did not derail the election of Chen Shui-bian from thepro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but the two sides arestill deadlocked over the definition of the ``one-China'' principle.
IISS analysts said some 200 mainland cruise missiles pointed across theTaiwan strait ``could become a threat in the near future'', but said alarge-scale military operation was unlikely, given Washington's support ofTaiwan.
The far-reaching crackdown on members of the Falun Gong spiritualmovement reflects the government's nervousness, IISS analysts said.
Beijing has banned the group, which claims to have some 80 millionpractitioners, decrying it as an evil cult responsible for brainwashing itsmembers.
``The sect's success at spreading its message at home and abroad . . .showed how far the Communist party's capacity to control Chinese society hadbeen diluted,'' the think-tank concluded.
IISS estimates that thousands of Falun Gong members have been imprisonedin the year since the movement first grabbed international attention by staginga 10,000-strong demonstration around the mainland leaders' headquarters incentral Beijing.
The mainland's attempt to join the World Trade Organisation representsanother ``great challenge'' for Beijing, the institute said.
The mainland hopes WTO membership will boost economic growth andencourage direct foreign investment, the institute said, but joining the globaleconomy could lead to painful restructuring of the country's state-ownedenterprises.
However, the signing of a bilateral trade accord with the United States lastNovember was a big first step toward normalisation of Beijing's trade relationswith other developed nations, it said.
``From a Chinese perspective, a giant step has been taken which is bound tohave enormous repercussions within the country,'' the IISS said.
GENEVA (Reuters) - China, defending itself against allegations of widespread torture, told a U.N. rights body Thursday that it had taken steps to prevent torture and prosecute officials suspected of mistreating inmates. Qiao Zonghuai, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, testified to the U.N. Committee against Torture that cases of torture had dropped in recent years.
He credited strengthened legislation, training for judicial officers and improved mechanisms for investigating breaches -- but conceded that there was room for improvement.
``China's legal system still needs to be further improved and there are still weak links in our system of judicial supervision. These problems pose an obstacle to the eradication of torture in China,'' he said.
Qiao, who heads Beijing's 24-strong delegation, was addressing the start of a two-day session on China. He presented the government's 54-page report on its compliance with the Convention against Torture.
The committee, composed of 10 independent experts, is holding its semi-annual meeting in Geneva through May 19 to review the records of nine of the 119 states which have ratified the 1987 pact. They include China and the United States.
Committee members took the floor to question whether China's legal reforms went far enough to protect detainees from abuse.
Several called for ending administrative detention which now leaves inmates in legal limbo and at risk of mistreatment.
FALUN GONG MOVEMENT
They raised dozens of issues, including alleged torture of detained members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong.
Qiao said: ``...cases of torture in China have dropped over the last few years. In 1998 the people's courts in China convicted 193 suspects for the crime of extorting (extracting) confessions by torture, extracting testimony by violence or physically abusing persons held in custody, and meted our criminal penalties accordingly. In 1999 the number of such convicts dropped to 173.''
But Antonio Silva Henriques Gaspar, a Portuguese legal expert on the committee, said: ``The complaints where penalties have been applied seem very low to us compared with the allegations to be found in documents available to the committee from non-governmental organizations.''
Amnesty International alleges that torture and ill-treatment remain ``commonplace'' despite being prohibited by Chinese law. ``Criminal suspects are often beaten, kicked, hung by the arms, shackled in painful positions, deprived of food and sleep and given electric shocks,'' the London-based group said in March.
Qiao listed improvements since China's last report in 1995, including amendments to its criminal procedural law and criminal law banning officials from extracting confessions by torture.
Andreas Mavrommatis, a Cypriot expert who is the committee's special rapporteur on China, welcomed reform in China where he said torture had been ``almost part of the culture'' for decades.
The expert also urged China's central government to verify that executions of convicted criminals were carried out by fatal injections and not by cruel methods including ``firing squads.''
The New York-based group Human Rights in China (HRIC) issued a statement saying that legal and institutional deficiencies were the ``root causes'' of torture in the country of 1.2 billion.
``Among the most notable and egregious omissions is that evidence obtained through torture continues to be admissible in court in China today,'' said HRIC research chief Sophia Woodman.
SHANGHAI, May 4 (Reuters) - China has condemned a report by a U.S. religious commission that criticised its human rights record, saying the reported distorted facts ahead of a critical U.S. congressional vote on trade relations with Beijing.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sun Yuxi late on Wednesday as saying the report ``confounded black and white'' and amounted to interference in China's internal affairs.
The report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by the White House and Congress, comes less than a month before a sharply divided House of Representatives votes whether to set permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China.
A vote in China's favour would pave the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organisation.
The commission's report, released on Monday, said lawmakers should grant China PNTR status only after Beijing makes a ``substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom.''
The commission criticised Beijing's nationwide crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement -- labelled as an ``evil cult'' by Chinese authorities -- in which leaders were sentenced to lengthy prison terms and thousands of practitioners detained.
``The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has no right whatsoever to accuse China on matters concerning religion and Falun Gong,'' Xinhua quoted Sun as saying.
The report had ``deeply hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and they firmly oppose it,'' he said.
Sun also warned the United States to avoid creating ``new trouble and obstacles to bilateral relations that are at a crucial moment now.''
China and the United States signed a trade agreement last November that sets the stage for Beijing to join the Geneva-based world trade body.
In exchange, Congress must grant China PNTR, which would guarantee Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets as products from nearly every other nation.
Allies of U.S. President Bill Clinton have played down the commission's report, saying that they remained confident of rounding up the 218 votes needed to ensure passage in the 435-member House.
The House vote on PNTR is expected during the week of May 22-26. The Senate, which votes in early June, is expected to approve permanent trade status.
BEIJING (AP) - Beatings, forced labor, bad food and poor medical treatment are common in Chinese prisons, indicating the government has failed to honor commitments to curb torture, a human rights group said today.
Human Rights in China's critical assessment came in advance of a U.N. panel meeting in Geneva on Thursday to determine if the Chinese government has implemented the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Two years ago, Beijing reported that it was making progress.
While top Chinese officials have expressed opposition to the use of torture, such policies are often not enforced at the local level. Cases of torture leading to death and disability have continued despite Beijing's commitment to comply with the treaty, New York-based Human Rights in China said.
The narrow legal definition of torture, a lack of penalties and other faults in China's patchy legal system encourage police and prison officials to rely on ill treatment, the group said.
Among 27 cases it listed was that of Zhang Lin, a labor rights advocate serving a three-year sentence in Guangdong province's No. 1 Labor Camp. Zhang, who moved to the United States in 1997, was sentenced without trial in 1998 for allegedly entering China illegally and hiring prostitutes. He has suffered beatings every few days, leaving his body covered with wounds and causing him to attempt suicide twice and stage a hunger strike.
Chinese officials were not available for comment due to a weeklong May Day holiday.
The report cited incomplete statistics showing an increase in reports of torture since 1979. The top prosecutor's office recorded about 500 cases in 1996, with the number rising as police carried out a nationwide anti-crime campaign.
China's top police officer acknowledged that law enforcement officials routinely use torture to obtain confessions, the report said. ``By committing forced confessions, they have turned someone who has committed no crime into a criminal, or turned someone who committed a minor violation into a serious criminal violator, and harmed the masses terribly,'' it quoted Public Security Minister Jia Chunwang as saying.
The government has allowed the media to report some torture cases, though officials withhold information about cases involving political prisoners and people linked to the banned Falun Gong meditation movement.
People who have publicized sensitive torture cases have themselves been imprisoned.
Falun Gong members who reported the death in police custody of follower Zhao Jinhua were charged with violating the State Secrets Law. Zhao was arrested Sept. 27 and questioned about her links with Falun Gong. She was hospitalized in October after losing consciousness during interrogation, detained after her release for more questioning and later found beaten to death.
Beijing will target dissidents such as China Democracy Party members as well as criminals in its annual Strike Hard campaign which begins this week, according to a party source.
"Police and other law enforcement agencies will target criminals, including those who abduct women and children," said the source, who is close to the security establishment. "However, underground organisations - both criminal and political - will also be hit."
President Jiang Zemin, who has raised the alarm over the increasing numbers of women and children who have been kidnapped and then sold, gave instructions on ways to combat crime, the source said.
Mr Jiang indicated in an internal meeting that regional cadres' prospects for promotion would be linked to how well they maintained law and order in their provinces or cities. A German executive and his family were murdered in Jiangsu earlier this year, and there has been a raft of murders and robberies of Taiwanese and ethnic-Chinese businessmen in the coastal cities.
In the wake of the crackdown late last year, most dissident units have been lying low, but the party leadership is understood to fear social instability precipitated by factors including unemployment.
During the Strike Hard period, police will redouble their activities against quasi-religious sects such as the Falun Gong, which has continued to defy Beijing. This year's Strike Hard campaign has started earlier than in previous years, a Western diplomat said. The crackdown on crime is usually launched around June or July.
"Beijing wants to maintain utmost stability in the sensitive period of May and June, when the American Congress is assessing permanent Normal Trading Relations status for the country."
Other cadres have linked the law and order situation with the party's prestige - and its ability to keep its credibility.
Official papers yesterday quoted the head of the All-China Federation of Women, Peng Peiyun, as saying the campaign against the abduction of women and children was "an engineering project to win the hearts of people".
The Strike Hard operation this year is set to last for two months, but it can be extended if Beijing is not satisfied with the results. Strike Hard was first launched by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the mid-1980s. The late patriarch was said to have made his decision after his motorcade was almost waylaid by criminals during one of his outings.
After the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, the anti-crime campaign has also been used to restrict pro-democracy activists. During the Strike Hard period, police, often backed by the paramilitary People's Armed Police, devote more manpower and resources to patrols and arrests of suspects.
The authorities also instruct procuratorates and the courts to speed up the processing of criminal cases.
Human rights organisations in the West have claimed that during Strike Hard campaigns, the mainland law-enforcement and judicial systems, already known for their lax standards, become even more subject to political manipulation.
A government-backed group of religious and human rights experts is recommending that Congress not approve permanent normal trade relations with China.
In its first annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it supported free trade, but that, in the case of China, Congress should wait on approving the disputed measure until "China makes substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom."
The commission also urged a harder line against the government in northern Sudan, and said Russia "has used anti-Muslim rhetoric to promote the war [in Chechnya] and to justify reported acts of brutality."
Normalizing trade relations with China is one of President Clinton's most important remaining foreign policy objectives. While it is likely to be approved in the Senate, a vote in the House, scheduled later this month, is considered too close to call.
Although the year-old nonpartisan commission is coming out strong against the administration's position, it may lack the leverage to sway one of the year's most heavily lobbied debates.
"We certainly hope [Congress] will listen to our recommendation," says Lawrence Goodrich, a spokesman for the commission.
Creating permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Beijing would assure that China's markets will be open to the US when China joins the World Trade Organization. But granting PNTR would also end Congress's annual review of China, which has been a major forum for condemning some of the country's alleged human rights abuses.
Efforts to move that forum from Congress to the United Nations have been difficult, because China is a permanent member of the Security Council.
Most prominently, the Chinese government has launched a nationwide crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Last week, authorities arrested about 100 peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. The group says 35,000 total have been arrested.
Beijing is also accused of violating the religious freedom of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Tibetan Buddhists.
The commission recommends that the US not grant PNTR until China changes its policy - something that is unlikely to happen in the immediate future.
The commission also cited religious intolerance in Sudan, an oil-rich nation where hundreds of thousands have died from famine and civil war.
There, the fundamentalist Muslim government of Khartoum is threatening to overrun the rebels in the south. If it wins, it is likely to impose strict Islamic law over Christians and other Muslims in the south.
The US does not give food aid to the southern rebels, in part because it would abandon a normal policy of international neutrality.
The commission, however, urges the US to step up aid to all of Sudan and, at the same time, put Khartoum on notice that, if the situation does not improve in a year, nonlethal aid could be supplied "to appropriate opposition groups."
The commission also criticizes the US government for not sealing the sanctions against Khartoum. The report says that the government there is indirectly getting financial help from US markets.
A lucrative oil pipeline is part-owned by the China National Petroleum Co. (CNPC), whose subsidiary, PetroChina Co. Ltd., has raised money in the US capital market. The money is to go into retiring CNPC's debt, some of which is tied to the Sudan oil fields, according to the commission.
"The pipeline and oil deal is creating massive revenue for Khartoum," says Mr. Goodrich.
An independent commission on religious freedom yesterday urged Congress to reject permanent trading privileges for China unless it improves human rights protections, provoking objections from the Clinton administration, which has been lobbying to keep the two issues separate.
In its first annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan multifaith group, wrote that "Chinese government violations of religious freedom increased markedly in the last year," a reference to the crackdowns on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, household churches and Tibetan Buddhists. Unless China makes substantial improvements, it should not be granted permanent normal trading relations (PNTR), they concluded.
Administration officials disagreed.
"We profoundly believe that conditionality will not advance the cause of religious freedom in China and will not improve the circumstances of any of the religious adherents about whom we are all deeply concerned," said Harold Hongju Koh and Robert Seiple, two State Department officials who oversee human rights monitoring.
The administration has been trying to win congressional support for granting China PNTR as part of a deal that admits China to the World Trade Organization. To gain admission to the WTO, China agreed to open its markets and cut tariffs, but American companies and farmers will receive those benefits only if Congress gives China permanent normal trading relations.
The House is expected to take up the measure late this month in what will likely be a close vote.
Opposition comes from organized labor and critics concerned about China's human rights violations and its expanding military. Many conservative Christian groups have also strongly opposed the administration's position as part of their efforts to elevate religious persecution to a top human rights priority.
The commission recommends asking Chinese leaders to open a high-level dialogue with the United States on religious freedoms, ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and release all religious prisoners.
The report also singles out Sudan and Russia for criticism. The commission's Muslim member dissented on recommendations to fund the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, a rebel group fighting the Muslim government in that country, and yesterday several Muslim groups echoed that position.
WASHINGTON -- A federally constituted panel charged with probing the abilities of religious groups across the globe to practice their beliefs unhindered recommended Monday that expanded trade privileges for China be withheld by the United States until the Chinese government ceases persecuting a variety of religious groups.
Members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said at a Monday morning news conference in Washington that the rate of religious persecution by the Chinese government rose sharply in 1999, with practicing Catholic, Protestants, Tibetan Buddhists and the members of the many-thousands-strong Falun Gong movement targeted by the central government.
The commission released its first annual report Monday -- a nonbinding document that singles out China as a gross violator of basic religious rights. It also highlights what it says are severe abuses in Sudan, while warning that non-Orthodox Christians and Jews in Russia may also be facing some amount of repression.
The commission, founded with the passage of the 1998 Religious Freedom Act -- which established international religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy goal -- has nine full-time members, led by Rabbi David Saperstein.
In its report, the panel outlines Beijing's treatment of the Falun Gong, a group whose practices are an amalgamation of mysticism, meditation, breathing exercises and physical fitness. The Communist central government has branded Falun Gong a cult -- despite its widespread membership rolls, which could top 2 million people.
The group says it has no political aim, but was established in 1992 by founder Li Hongzhi to promote "moral qualities." Falun Gong members have routinely held silent protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Often, these group members are hustled off the square by police.
The commission charged Monday that the Chinese government has sentenced several Falun Gong leaders to lengthy prison terms, while detaining thousands of rank-and-file practitioners.
"A few followers were even beaten to death or died suddenly in custody," the report stated.
The unveiling of the report is certain to provide ammunition to an unlikely coalition in the House that is bent on denying permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to China when the subject comes up for a chamber vote later this month.
The Clinton Administration is pushing hard for a successful PNTR vote in the House -- passage is all but assured in the Senate -- saying approval would be coupled with China's bid to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In a series of recent speeches, President Bill Clinton has argued that China's entrance to the world trade body was in the best interests of the United States.
He has stated that China will be subjected to strict monitoring, and opened channels of trade and communication will bring positive changes to the way Beijing conducts itself internally as well as externally.
In addition, tariffs imposed on U.S. goods by the Chinese government would likely be lowered significantly with PNTR approval.
Tough House vote
But a number of Democrats in the House have aligned themselves with some of China's fiercest Republican critics, and fate of the PNTR bill would now seem to be unclear, though the administration predicts it can muster enough votes for passage.
The House Republican leadership has come out in favor of the bill.
Still, Democrats aligned with organized labor argue that free trade with China could sap many jobs from the U.S., while a number of Republicans concerned with China's international trade practices, human rights record and repression of a number of non-state-sanctioned religious groups have vowed to vote against the measure.
Previously, the Congress has had to approve "most favored nation" trading status for the People's Republic of China on a yearly basis.
As a "precondition" to PNTR, the commission recommended Monday that Beijing should be prompted to release its religious prisoners, open an ongoing dialogue with Washington on religious freedom, and approve the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, the group urged Congress to work to ensure that no city in China is chosen as a site for any upcoming Olympic Games until the situation for its outcast religious groups shows significant improvement.
Other areas of concern
The north-central African nation of Sudan was also singled out for harsh criticism by the commission in its annual report. The group has charged that the strict Islamic government in Khartoum is responsible for repressing Christians and a number of traditional African religions in the far southern regions of the sizable country.
The report criticized the State Department for not releasing a number of documents on its own assessment of the civil rights situation in Sudan, documents that included a number of cables from the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
In addition, the commission urged new Russian President Vladimir Putin to reconsider the content of a 1997 government edict calling for the elimination of non-registered religious groups. Jews and some Christian sects may be in danger of future persecution there, the report warned.
WASHINGTON - Religious freedom is under such serious attack in China that America should delay awarding it Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) until improvement comes, a U.S. commission said Monday. That hard-nosed recommendation was announced by Michael Young, vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Young is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The commission also urged more U.S. pressure on Russia, where it said groups including the LDS Church have been harassed and may face expulsion in some areas. It also urged U.S. pressure on Sudan, where it said religious persecution is worst in the world. The commission was created by a 1998 law to study religious freedom worldwide and report to Congress on it every year on May 1. The report Monday was the first it has issued. While President Clinton has formed an unusual alliance with congressional Republicans to push for awarding China Permanent Normal Trade Relations as it seeks to join the World Trade Organization, the commission said that may send a bad signal.
"Many, and I am one, believe in free trade and that engaging China is far more likely to benefit everyone than trying to isolate Beijing," Young told a press conference at the National Press Club. "But we were convinced that for Congress to simply grant China PNTR at this moment, with no significant improvement in the state of religious freedom, would be to send Beijing a signal that these awful, inexcusable, inhumane policies did not require a more immediate response. "And this we could not recommend," Young said .. He listed some of the abuses found in China against people seeking to practice religion. "We're talking about three-year labor camp sentences without a trial, about multiyear prison terms, about people - including women - beaten to death by police," he said. Young said areas where Congress should seek improvement before allowing Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China include: China should open a high-level dialogue with the United States on religious freedom; it should ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; and it should allow the commission access to imprisoned religious leaders in China.
Also, he said China should respond to inquiries about religious prisoners, and it should release all religious prisoners. "We have not said China should not be granted PNTR. We have said that it should make substantial improvements in religious freedom before Congress votes to do so or before PNTR takes effect," Young said.
Young also noted the commission is urging the United States "to use its influence to ensure China is not selected as a site for the Olympic Games until it makes significant improvements in human rights, including religious freedom."
The commission also urged Congress and the administration to keep a close eye on developments in Russia, which it worries could otherwise soon act to expel many churches.
It noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that extends until Dec. 31 the deadline for churches to register in Russia - but it orders the "liquidation" of unregistered churches after that. The commission noted that various regional officials "have denied registration and sought the liquidation of unpopular religious communities - including Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatic churches, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Orthodox groups not associated with the Moscow Patriarchate."
The commission also urged the United States to increase aid to regions in Sudan it said are under attack in a long civil war because of predominant religious beliefs that do not match extremist Muslim beliefs of country leaders.
"The government has escalated an appalling policy of deliberately bombing civilian facilities in the south: It has repeatedly hit churches, schools, hospitals and the facilities of aid organizations," said commission chairman David Saperstein, who is a rabbi.
Democrats Martin Lee Chu-ming and Sin Chung-kai flew to the US yesterday to lobby for approval of permanent Normal Trading Relations for China. "We've always been consistent in hoping the status will be granted to China, as it will lead to improvements in human rights and more democracy on the mainland," Mr Lee said.
"Passage [of permanent relations] will be good for the economy as a matter of course. But our focus is for the rule of law to be enhanced in China," he said.
The US House of Representatives is to vote in the week of May 22 on whether to grant permanent privileges to China.
The bill is widely expected to pass in the Senate, but the US administration is under pressure from opponents who fear passage will lead to widespread job losses in the US and poorer human rights in China.
On Saturday, Democratic Party representatives met US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a strong supporter of the bill who was in town as part of a fact-finding trip to China.
"Mr Glickman told us the vote [on approving permanent relations] was very close. If it is passed, we'll see a freer flow of information in China, which is the foundation for forging democracy," Mr Sin said.
Mr Lee denied the move was an attempt by the party to ease its strained relationship with Beijing.
"I don't think the relationship exists at all. We're not so narrow-minded as to think if you don't appreciate what we do, we won't help you.
"We intend to please nobody. We're just doing what we think is right for the people," he said.
Mr Lee and Mr Sin will meet members of Congress and the US media during the five-day trip and will discuss the latest developments in the SAR.
"There is not so much concern overseas about Hong Kong since it returned to China. But no news from the SAR doesn't mean good news," Mr Lee said.
"We'll tell the truth about the right of abode issue and press freedom."
The pair would also report "positive news" such as the Falun Gong being allowed to practise in Hong Kong, which Mr Lee said illustrated "one country, two systems" was well in place.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal advisory panel created to promote religious rights declared today that China should be denied permanent normal trade status until it makes ``substantial improvement'' in allowing its people the freedom to worship.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its report, accused China, Sudan and, to a lesser degree, Russia of hindering religious practices.
At the same time, the panel criticized the State Department for withholding documents related to Sudan, including embassy cables, despite government security clearances covering commission staff.
``This violates the spirit of Congress's intent,'' the report said. Otherwise, it said, the department and other federal agencies have been generally cooperative in its efforts to document governmental abuses of religion.
Congress established the 10-member commission to meet concerns that U.S. foreign policy has not adequately addressed persecution of Christians and other religious groups around the world. Headed by Rabbi David Saperstein, the commission includes religious, academic, legal and human rights specialists appointed by congressional leaders and the president.
``Since its first meeting in June 1999, the commission has found religious freedom under serious threat in a number of countries,'' the report said. It held a series of hearings and meetings focusing on China, Sudan and Russia.
``While many commissioners support free trade, the commission believes that the U.S. Congress should grant China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) only after China makes substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom,'' the report said.
The Clinton administration, with the support of the Republican leadership in Congress, has made PNTR for China a major priority, but many Democrats and some Republicans oppose it. The status would give China's exports to the United States the same favorable conditions that other nations enjoy and ease China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
In a series of sweeping declarations, the commission also called for tightening sanctions against Sudan and possibly aiding opposition groups in the African nation; placing unprecedented restrictions on U.S. stock offerings that might help oppressive nations, denying any bid by China to host the Olympics and inviting the exiled Dalai Lama to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Recommended action on Russia was less forceful.
The panel called for continued monitoring of the treatment of non-Russian Orthodox Christians as well as Jews. It also said President Vladimir Putin should be pressed to reverse a 1997 edict requiring liquidation of non-registered religious groups and to extend the visas of religious workers in Russia.
For the future, the commission said it would continue to watch progress in Sudan, China and Russia and expand its watchdog role to include other nations.
In what would be a boon to proselytizing American churches, the commission announced it would evaluate U.S. policy options to promote globally the ``right to change one's faith and the right to seek to persuade others to change theirs.''
The State Department, under the same law that created the commission, has designated Sudan and China as ``countries of particular concern'' because of restrictions of religious freedom.
The commission blamed Khartoum's Islamic government for oppression of Christians and traditional African religions in the south.
It proposed a yearlong plan for dealing with Sudan that, in addition to tougher sanctions, would restrict ``the ability of foreign-organized firms doing business with Sudan to raise money in U.S. capital markets.''
This was also aimed at China, whose government-owned China National Oil Co. has developed Sudan's oil fields and issued a new stock offering on U.S. markets as PetroChina Company Ltd.
Although PetroChina denies it, the commission said millions of dollars raised through PetroChina shares ``may well end up benefiting'' Sudan's government.
On China, the commission cited an increase in violations of religious freedom over the past year, against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibetan Buddhists and Roman Catholic and Protestant underground ``house churches.'' China allows only sanctioned Christian churches.
``The United States should use its diplomatic influence with other governments to ensure that China is not selected as a site for the International Olympic Games until it makes significant improvement in human rights, including religious freedom,'' the commission said.
WASHINGTON, May 1 (Reuters) - A commission appointed by the White House and Congress urged lawmakers on Monday to deny permanent trading benefits to China, citing Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement and other religious groups.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued the nonbinding recommendation less than a month before a deeply-divided House of Representatives votes on the legislation, which would ensure U.S. companies benefit from President Bill Clinton's landmark trade pact with Beijing.
Clinton's allies played down the commission's report, saying they remained confident of rounding up the 218 votes they needed to ensure passage in the 435-member House. Senate approval is virtually assured.
In its first annual assessment of religious rights around the world, the advisory panel also urged Clinton to tighten U.S. sanctions on Sudan and to deny companies that invest in Sudanese oil projects access to U.S. capital markets.
In addition, it warned that religious liberties in Russia "could deteriorate significantly in the near future," and urged President-elect Vladimir Putin to reverse an edict requiring liquidation of nonregistered religious groups.
But the focus of the report was China.
The nine-member commission -- made up of experts on religious and human rights issues -- criticized Beijing's nationwide crackdown on Falun Gong. Leaders were sentenced to long prison terms and thousands of practitioners were detained. "A few followers were even beaten to death or died suddenly while in custody," the independent commission said.
It also accused China of repressing Roman Catholics, Protestants and Tibetan Buddhists. "Chinese government violations of religious freedom increased markedly during the past year," according to the panel, which was set up in 1998 to advise the White House, the State Department and Congress.
IMPROVEMENT IN RESPECT FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The report said lawmakers should only grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to China after Beijing makes a "substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom."
The trade agreement, which would pave the way for China's entry into the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO), calls on Beijing to open a wide range of markets, from agriculture to telecommunications.
In exchange, Clinton says, Congress must grant China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) -- a status it now enjoys only after an annual congressional review. PNTR would guarantee Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets as products from nearly every other nation.
PNTR legislation faces stiff opposition in the House, particularly from Democrats allied with organized labor. But many religious conservatives in Congress also oppose the pact, and have demanded that China expand religious freedom before joining the Geneva-based WTO, which sets global trading rules.
As a precondition for PNTR, the commission said Beijing should release all religious prisoners, open a high-level dialogue with Washington on religious-freedom issues and ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
The commission said Congress should hold annual hearings on human rights and religious freedom in China, extend an invitation to the Dalai Lama to address a joint session of Congress, and use its "diplomatic influence" to ensure that China is not selected as a site for the Olympic Games.
The House is scheduled to vote on PNTR in the week of May 22-26. The Senate is expected to follow in early June.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]