China and Religion
Jude Wanniski
September 1, 1999


Memo To: Tom Friedman, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "Siamese Twins"

Excellent column yesterday, Tom. Where you see the PRC and Taiwan as Siamese twins, bound together whether they like it or not, I've always thought of them as a divorced couple, with Beijing the wife (security) and Taipei the husband (risk). While some of our old Cold Warriors see a conflict with China over the Taiwan issue inevitable, I've always assumed there would be reconciliation. I made that exact forecast in my book, The Way the World Works, which I wrote in 1977. When I was in both capitals in the summer of 1986, I pointed out that Taiwan was capital rich and labor and land poor, and China was labor and land rich and capital poor. Unification is not a matter of politics, but straightforward physics. The most important line in your column was about "the 46,000 Taiwanese-funded enterprises operating in China today."

Our old Cold Warriors on the right, led by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Schneider and Bill Kristol, are bent on provoking Beijing into action, so we can rush to Taiwan's defense. As long as they only think they are strengthening Taiwan's hand in the pre-nuptial agreement that is being quietly worked out by both sides, perhaps no harm will be done by their saber-rattling. I worry that the forces of permanent independence in Taiwan would find a way to really force Beijing's hand, before the bonding between the "twins" becomes so thorough as to make independence unthinkable forever. One of the issues being raised again by Perle & Co. is that of religion in China, and why we have to deny China admission to the World Trade Organization because they don't permit sufficient religious freedoms. My colleague at Polyconomics, Peter Signorelli, has been following this issue for more than 30 years. I asked him for his observations this week based on press accounts of a new crackdown in China:

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I do not think that there is any new wave of repression of Christians in China. Protestants are allowed a restricted freedom of worship, but as with every other religious denomination in China, they must register with the government. One certainly can make the argument that the Beijing regime is not friendly toward religious activities, but the law of the country does uphold the right of religious practice. The details are sketchy regarding the arrest of Protestants, but the arrests simply can not be arbitrary. Most likely, those arrested were apprehended for engaging in their assemblies without having registered with the proper authorities. One can rightfully complain that religious organizations ought not be subject to that kind of restriction or limitations to their right to worship, but the arrests do not make up a new era of repression of religious organizations. Linking them to persecution of "underground" Catholics or the Falun Gong sect, suggests a pattern of anti-religious activity that really is not there.

The majority of the Catholic clergy in the Patriotic Association churches in China are in union with Rome, even though this is forbidden under law. The underground Catholic Church flourishes in China, despite official repression. At the same time, the Vatican and Beijing have been involved in lengthy ex-officio discussions, as the Vatican seeks to establish a concordat with China that will acknowledge the role of the papacy on matters of faith and morals for Chinese Catholics. Such a concord would have been capped by a visit to China of Pope John Paul II. Beijing, however, insists that no such state-to-state visit can take place while the Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan and does not recognize Beijing. Cardinal Kung spent some 30 years in a Chinese prison for his religious beliefs. He knew quite intimately the severe difficulties people of faith encounter in China. However, the proposal by the Cardinal Kung foundation to link China's WTO membership to an agenda regarding Chinese compliance on human rights issues is a perspective of one lay group; it is not the perspective of the Vatican.

According to the report in the Washington Times, "Western analysts say China's arrest of the Protestants and the crackdown on the Falun Gong is a clear indication of Beijing's growing intolerance to religious expression." Yet no evidence is offered. That conclusion flows from a pre-conceived anti-Beijing mind set. And how could a reputable publication give space to the following wild assertion that "SOME ANALYSTS [code words for speculative opinion from those who really have no evidence] say the arrest of the Falun Gong may have been planned as a 'cover' for the harassment of millions of underground Christians."?

Peter Signorelli

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Tom, you might consider doing a column on the China issue in presidential politics when you return. As you certainly know, Perle & Co. are the principle national security advisors to George W. Bush, just as they were to Bob Dole in the 1996 campaign. As you may not know, I have been advising former Vice President Dan Quayle, who believes in reconciliation. You will have to sort out the rest of the field for yourself. Have a safe trip home. And stay away from anything that looks like a W-88 warhead.