Overtures to the West?


China has recently taken great strides to be a part of the free world. It has been given entry into the World Trade Organization; it has “most favored nation” trading status with the U.S.; it has also won the bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, a great public relations coup.

Now we are also meant to believe that China is opening up a new age of religious tolerance and freedom.

In early October, “an appeals court in central China … overturned death sentences for five leaders of a banned Christian sect and ordered a retrial—an exceptional move in a country that controls religion tightly …” (Associated Press, Oct. 8). Apparently this decision was reached under considerable pressure from democratic countries around the world.

But the Chinese have shown in the past that they certainly are adept at resisting global opinion—unless it is diplomatically convenient to be seen to submit to it.

The decision for a retrial in this case came conveniently one day after the U.S. State Department released a report in which it accused several Asian countries of “denying religious freedom to their citizens and discriminating against religious minorities” (www.atimes.com, Oct. 9). This report specifically said of China that “respect for religious freedom and freedom of conscience remained poor.” According to bbc News, “The rare move comes a few weeks before Chinese President Jiang Zemin is due to visit U.S. President George Bush at his Texas ranch” (Oct. 8). Hardly a coincidence.

The decision to have a retrial was a timely one—and it is already obtaining the desired result as far as the Chinese government is concerned. The liberal press is devoting appropriate space to even the most muted praise from Western nations over China’s decision.

Expect China to continue such limited overtures to the West as it uses such diplomatic ploys to extract as much favor as possible while, at the same time, working to gain the advantage over its declared enemy, the U.S.

It will be interesting to view the outcome of the retrial of the defendants in this case, once President Jiang has obtained what favor China seeks from his October visit to Texas.