WASHINGTON—Human rights abuses are escalating in China, and the government crackdown on religious freedom has intensified, according to Chinese dissidents and U.S. experts meeting to mark the 50th anniversary of the Communist takeover of China.

The tragic situation is unlikely to improve with the surprise trade deal signed by the United States and China on Nov. 15 which will lead China into the World Trade Organization, said one pro-democracy Chinese activist.

“Is the White House sending the message to China that human rights will have to be respected?” asked Wei Jingsheng, who was jailed in China for 20 years. “No, they are sending the opposite message. Those concerned about human rights and democracy in China view this agreement as a catastrophe.”

“Every area in China has human rights problems,” he told attendees at “Human Rights in China: 50 Years Later,” a conference sponsored by the Population Research Institute. Conference participants were largely opposed to China's accession to the World Trade Organization.

Administration officials say they expect the trade agreement to have a “positive impact” on China's respect for human rights by introducing Western ideas into the country through trade. President Clinton has said he considers the trade deal one of his greatest foreign policy accomplishments.

But while American negotiators met in Beijing to arrange the trade agreement, a Chinese court was in the process of sentencing four members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement to prison.

The harassment of Falun Gong is the latest high-profile sign of the Chinese regime's intolerance of spiritual or religious expression not sanctioned by the state. But in every area of concern — from the government's one-child policy, to the forced sterilization of Chinese minority populations, to the imprisonment of Christian clerics and believers — China experts at the Washington conference report that things have gotten worse.

Contrary to a recent U.N. report that China's policy of allowing one child per family was ending, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji declared on Oct. 13, “China will continue to enforce its effective family planning policy in the new century,” according to Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute.

Mosher has been tracking the one-child policy since 1979 when, as one of the first American academics allowed to do field research, he spent a year studying Chinese village life.

“I was an eyewitness to forced sterilization and abortion,” he told the Register. “It traumatized families and still does. The government has pledged to continue this practice because it want to reduce the number of Chinese, not just hold population at current levels.”

The Chinese government claims that abortion is voluntary, but Mosher claims women are pressured into complying: “As long as the targeted women walk the last few steps to the local medical clinic, then the abortion that follows is said to be ‘voluntary.’”

He said that rather than use brute force to make sure Chinese women abort, the government often uses other Orwellian tactics to make the abortions “voluntary.”

“[Y]ou can fine the woman,” he said. “You can lock her up. You can subject her to morning-to-night brainwashing sessions.You can cut off the electricity to her house. You can fire her from her job. You can fire her husband from his job. And you can fire her parents from their jobs.”

Conference participants also charged China with a eugenics policy toward minority populations such as the Muslim Uyghur people. One Uyghur representative, Adil Ahmat, unveiled documentary evidence of the systematic forced abortion and sterilization of Uyghur men and women in western China. He said evidence exists that the government wants to reduce their population of 7 million to 3 million.

Catholic activist Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation in Stamford, Conn., said recent increased religious persecution shows the folly of international acceptance of China as a full trade partner.

“Obviously, the current policies of many countries in the free world to delink human rights from trade has failed to convince China to stop the religious persecution,” Kung asserted. “On the contrary, the policies make the Chinese government contemptuous, allowing it to continue persecuting religious believers without fear of damaging its international relationships.”

U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., reminded attendees that Congress will vote next year on whether to permanently normalize trade relations with China. Although Congress doesn't vote directly on Clinton's agreement or on Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization, it will vote on whether to grant permanent tariff preferences to China. Now called “normal trade relations” status, this designation was formerly called “most favored nation” status. Only if the United States gives China this new status can the administration's trade deal with China become effective.

Some Republican leaders in Congress argue, along with Clinton, that more trade will mean more openness of China to reform.

In a press statement, Rep. Bill Archer, chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said: “I continue to believe that the U.S. is best served by an open trade policy with China, and am encouraged by the progress announced ... by President Clinton.”

Beyond Trade Sanctions

Nevertheless, Rep. Wolf contended that Congress is undecided regarding the issue. But, Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington human-rights organization Freedom House, said, “There's no way to fight the WTO accession. It's a dead end.”

She advocates sanctioning the Chinese government by controlling Chinese access to capital markets.

“Religious persecution has been more visible since April and the crack-down on Falun Gong, but what is happening to the Falun Gong has been happening to Catholics since Tiananmen Square in 1989.”

Shea cited State Department rankings that place China as one of the five worst persecutors of religion in the world. “Yet the United States has no human rights policy” as regards China, she said. “We have a trade policy, but no religious freedom or human rights policy. I advocate taking steps to sanction Chinese government-controlled companies’ access to U.S. capital markets. We need to organize activism around investment or finance sanctions. The trade-sanctions debate is dead.”

Steve Mosher said Population Research Institute and other China critics will focus on trade sanctions. “If we can build a bipartisan coalition on this with religious groups, major human rights groups, get the Chinese dissidents involved, the labor unions, which have been adamantly opposed to WTO, we can challenge unconditional acceptance of China into WTO as undeserved.”

He said congressional action is expected by March or April.

Mosher and pro-democracy activist Wei Jingsheng pointed to American public opinion polls showing skepticism about China. A Zogby poll published early in November showed that 68.5% of the Americans surveyed thought the United States shouldn't give China trade benefits without significant improvement in its human rights record.

Eleanor Kennelly and Victor Gaetan write from the Washington, D.C., area.

The Suffering Church in China

As a Catholic and a China scholar, Steven Mosher is particularly interested in the plight of the “suffering Church in China.”

The president of the Population Research Institute explained that the Catholic Church in China has been forcibly divided. The government created a Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, or Patriotic Church, to replace the Roman Catholic Church, which was declared illegal. The Patriotic Church is banned from recognizing the authority of the Pope, yet an underground Church, loyal to the magisterium, continues clandestine activity.

“Even in the Patriotic Catholic Church, the majority are faithful to the Holy Father,” said Mosher. “I'd estimate that two-thirds of the Patriotic bishops are, in fact, loyal.”

Asked about the number of Catholics in China today, Mosher said accurate numbers are hard to come by. The government admits the number of believers is on the rise, and officially acknowledges 10 million Protestants and 8 million Catholics. Most observers, however, think the real numbers are much higher.

“I know an evangelical priest who had dinner with the Chinese minister of education,” said Mosher. “After a few drinks, the minister confided that Beijing officials fear there could be around 80 million practicing in the country. That means we're closing in on 10% of the Chinese population.”

Fear of the Christian challenge might explain renewed attacks on Christian clerics and believers.

Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, addressed the recent Population Research Institute conference in Washington, D.C., on the status of the Chinese underground Church. Kung is the nephew of Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who became bishop of Shanghai Province in 1950. He was elevated to cardinal secretly by Pope John Paul in 1979.

The Kung foundation has documented an increase in arrests of underground Church members over the last few years, including the arrest of Bishop Jia Zhiguo in Hebei Province on Aug. 15 and the prosecution of seven young underground Church members in Jiangxi Province two days before.

—Eleanor Kennelly and Victor Gaetan