Sanctioning Persecution

During his visit to China last week, Vice President Gore told reporters that he would make clear to Chinese leaders “the seriousness of our commitment to human rights” and religious freedom. But as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, by the end of his trip Gore hadn’t been able to bring himself to being even generally critical of Beijing’s human rights abuses, never mind bringing up specific violations. Perhaps the vice-president was too busy clinching billion-dollar deals between China and Boeing and General Motors. In effect, the Clinton administration has told Chinese leaders—in a nice way, of course—that torturing and killing its citizens is wrong—but we’re going to reward them handsomely for doing it. Next year, America’s trade deficit with China may go as high as $50 billion. American religious leaders have pushed for trade sanctions to punish China. But we’re told—by the Clinton administration and business interests—that sanctions just won’t work. Well, I’m convinced sanctions will work, because I’ve seen sanctions work against another brutal regime: the former Soviet Union. In 1973 President Nixon sent me to Moscow to negotiate for the release of Soviet Jews. I spent five days nose-to-nose with Vasily Kuznetsov, the hard-line Soviet negotiator. I told him that if the Soviets did not loosen their restrictions, Congress would not pass the trade treaty, which the Soviets desperately needed. Release the Jews, I said, or kiss American grain good-bye. For five days Kuznetsov would not budge. He pounded the table and shouted, “You have no right to interfere in our internal affairs!” My reply was always the same. “These aren’t your internal affairs,” I told him. “Human rights are not conferred by government; they cannot be denied by government.” And although I was not a Christian at the time, I added, “Human rights are God-given to everyone. We call them ‘inalienable’.” As Kuznetsov rose from the table the last day, he slammed down his papers and announced: “Mr. Colson, tell your president we will do our part.” That year 35,000 Jews were released—and the grain was shipped. I would like to take some credit for that, but I can’t. It was the U.S. Congress and the American people who freed those captives. And it will take the same pressure from Congress and the American people to free the captives in China, as well. If anything, the treatment of contemporary Christians is worse than the treatment of Soviet Jews in 1973. Last year a unanimous House-Senate resolution found that Christians are now experiencing “the worst persecution since the 1970s.” You and I need to remind Americans that the principles that guided us through our face-down with the Soviets are never for sale. The U.S. has no business trading with countries whose governments practice slave labor and religious persecution. In the next few weeks Congress will decide whether or not to renew China’s Most Favored Nation trade status. Your representatives need to hear from you now on this issue. Please, tell them it’s time to get tough, so the Chinese will back down just as the Soviets did 25 years ago. We cannot turn our backs on our brothers and sisters in Christ—Christians who are being led away to persecution, torture, and death.


Chuck Colson


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