U.S. Department of State
Press Statement by Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Response to Commission on
The following statement was issued by Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
"The Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory body created in 1998 to report on and make recommendation to the President, Secretary of State, and the Congress on the state of religious freedom around the world, has released its first annual report. We have only just received the final copy of the report, and will study it carefully. This year's report focuses on three countries in particular-China, Russia and Sudan. In its descriptions of violations of religious freedom, the report appears to parallel closely the evaluations of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released in February of this year, and the International Religious Freedom Report, released in September 1999 (both available at www.state.gov)."
"As required by law, the report also makes recommendations for U.S. policy options. We welcome many of the proposals, including the report's call for increased focus on the Sudanese Government's abuses of human and religious rights, and its recommendation for increased monitoring of religious liberty at the local level in Russia. The Administration has already enhanced our efforts on each of these issues, and we will look for opportunities to do even more in the future."
"At the same time, the report contains a number of recommendations with which we disagree, especially the recommendation that the Congress impose human rights conditionality on permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) with China. 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. This is because conditionality as proposed by the Commission-and even a vote to reject PNTR-provides little more than the appearance of U.S. leverage against the Chinese government. It would not prevent Chinese entry in to the World Trade Organization (WTO); nor would it deprive China of the economic benefits of WTO membership. What it would do is deprive the U.S. of the full economic benefits of China's market-opening commitments, and severely restrict our ability to positively influence the course of events in China-including our ability to promote religious freedom. It would reduce the role of American companies in bringing higher labor standards to China and in forcing local companies to compete in improving the lives of their workers."
"However, with unconditional Congressional approval of PNTR, China will enter the WTO bound by the full range of economic commitments contained in the U.S.-China bilateral trade agreement. These commitments will move China in the direction of openness, accountability, reform, and rule of law, all of which will improve the conditions for religious freedom in China. Failure to approve PNTR would deprive the U.S. of the ability to hold China to all of these commitments. Given China's likely entry into the WTO, it would also put us in conflict with WTO rules, which require immediate and unconditional provision of PNTR for all WTO members."
"Despite our fundamental disagreement with the Commission on the issue of conditionality, we share the Commission's deep concern about abuses of religious freedom in China, and we remain committed to sustained U.S. Government efforts to promote religious freedom. President Clinton has made promotion of religious freedom abroad a priority of his presidency and an integral part of our foreign policy. The President created the first-ever Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, directed that we expand coverage of religious freedom in the State Department's annual human rights report, and supported and signed the legislation that brought into being the International Religious Freedom Commission."
"As demonstrated by our sponsorship of a recent resolution on China at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, we will continue to keep faith with those in China who face persecution due to their religious practices. We also look forward to continued dialogue with the commission on how best to promote our common goal of improving the observance of religious freedom in China and around the world."
[end of document]