Cover Story

So long Hong Kong

As China prepares to gobble up the once-free Hong Kong, Congress is considering whether to put Beijing on a diet-

Issue: "Hong Kong," June 28, 1997

Earlier this year, Tung Chee-hwa, the Beijing-appointed governor of Hong Kong after July 1, announced he could not move into the British governor's official residence because he'd heard the feng shui ("fung-shway") was not good. Debates about feng shui-the ancient Chinese art of harmonizing man and his surroundings-are swirling around Hong Kong as it heads into next week's handover to mainland China. Gov. Tung brought in his own feng shui master before deciding on a downtown suite with the proper arrangement of entrances, light, and reflection.

The sense of balance, however, is purely superficial. During the final days of Hong Kong's existence as a British colony, Chinese and British officials are bickering over everything from what to retain of colonial architectural symbols to when China's PLA, the Red Army, will officially enter its new possession. In the United States, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced she would boycott the swearing-in of the new Chinese-appointed assembly. Unhappy with new restrictions on the right to assemble, student demonstrators plan a vigil the night of the takeover to recall the Tiananmen Square massacre. Feng shui, for the moment, is history.

The human-rights record in China is not ambiguous. Forced abortions, raids of house churches, and detention of Christian and other minority religious leaders continue unabated despite more than a decade of open trade with the United States. It might seem that evangelicals concerned about persecution could unite in a campaign to change U.S. foreign policy toward China. Even here, however, feng shui is lacking.

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Frank Wolf is a logical leader of the drive to change U.S. policy. The nine-term Republican congressman from Virginia is a staunch pro-lifer with a consistent record on human rights. His campaign to use trading rights to promote human rights has been long-standing.

Mr. Wolf fought the Reagan administration ten years ago on some human-rights issues; now he challenges the Clinton White House. Every year he champions a vote to revoke China's normal trading privileges, known as Most Favored Nation status, or MFN. Last year he was forced to abandon the fight for lack of interest. There weren't enough votes even to bring it to the floor.

This year the tenor in Washington surrounding China's MFN could not be more different. First, China spent the year rounding up its remaining political dissidents and striking out against Christians who worship in independent churches. The State Department issued a tough condemnation of those practices in its annual human-rights report. Then came reports that Chinese powerbrokers and at least one arms dealer were having coffee in the White House and buying super computers useful for directing missiles. Suddenly an eclectic array of people normally content with domestic issues found themselves unhappy with China-as-usual.

Grass-roots support for a policy change is unusually strong, with nearly 70 percent of Americans in new polls saying trade should be used as a tool to get China on track. Mr. Wolf and other human-rights advocates were hoping for united evangelical support leading up to an expected vote on MFN this week. Instead evangelicals have been divided on the issue, and loudly so.

Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, has been the most prominent newcomer to the fray. Buoyed by a year-long, broad-based campaign to raise interest in worldwide religious persecution and unhappy with Beijing's record, Mr. Bauer's group, along with Focus on the Family and others, have fought against renewing China's MFN.

Another group, led by the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center, with tacit backing from Mr. Graham's son Ned, president of East Gates International, is aggressively taking issue with Mr. Bauer's battle. The Institute's group, with support from about 30 missions-related organizations, contend MFN is the core of America's engagement policy with China. Taking it away, the argument goes, will hurt the persecuted Christians the anti-MFN campaign is, in part, designed to help. It will also, they contend, limit access to fruitful ministries.

Mr. Wolf is not dismayed by the disaffection of fellow believers. Over the years he's become accustomed to the strange alliances this issue seems to invite. So he is siding with left-of-center groups like the AFL-CIO and the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and Mr. Bauer.

"There is no answer or solution to this problem which is absolutely right," says Mr. Wolf. "There are people on the Hill and outside who don't care about human-rights issues, but when they see a statement that fits in with their end results they will use it."

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