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12/15/03 - RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN CHINA - 2003-12-17

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom advises the government on the status of religious freedom around the world. Last August, in the aftermath of the July demonstrations in Hong Kong, Chinese officials informed the commission that it would not be welcome in China if it planned to visit Hong Kong for meetings. Earlier this month, China again informed the commission that its members would not be welcome if they were to go to Hong Kong for meetings. As a result, the commission again postponed its visit to China. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher commented on China’s decision:

“This is the second time this year that the commission has been forced to postpone or cancel a planned visit because of conditions raised by Beijing on the commission’s activities in Hong Kong. China has several times stated its willingness to host the group, and we call on the Chinese government to move forward with hosting arrangements that are acceptable to both sides.”

In its most recent human rights report, the State Department found that many religious groups, including Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations, continued to encounter official interference, harassment and repression in China. The U.S. is particularly concerned about the treatment of Tibetan Buddhists, Christians worshiping outside state-registered churches, Muslims, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

On December 10th, during his meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, President George W. Bush expressed the hope that China’s economic freedom will lead to greater freedoms in other areas of Chinese life:

“The growth of economic freedom in China provides reason to hope that social, political, and religious freedoms will grow there as well. In the long run, these freedoms are indivisible and essential to national greatness and national dignity.”

As President Bush said, “The growing strength and maturity of [the U.S.–China] relationship allows us to discuss our differences, whether over economic issues, Taiwan, Tibet, or human rights and religious freedom, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect.”