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.
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."
The other side is no less strangely aligned. Shoulder-to-shoulder with the Clinton administration are conservatives like Jeane Kirkpatrick and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, multinational corporations, and evangelical groups including Christian Voice and Moody Bible Institute. Chinese mission organizations like China Outreach Ministries, Inc., China Harvest, and China Connection also want to protect MFN. The evangelical groups have tried to position themselves as above the fray even while inundating Capitol Hill with mass mailings and press conferences that assail the Family Research Council stance.
Bryan Henninger, East Gates' corporate coordinator, told WORLD the purpose of Ned Graham's letter to every member of Congress was simply to show that "some of us are apolitical."
That letter to Congress complained of "negative rhetoric currently being generated against China, even including some voices from within the evangelical community." A recent three-page fundraising letter took the same approach, saying, "East Gates is neither for nor against MFN," even though it criticizes "some evangelical leaders" for pressuring Congress not to renew MFN.
Mr. Graham writes, "The government of China has done many bad things, and probably will continue to do so. But so has our government, and all others. So did Rome! As Christians, we are not called to battle governments."
Mr. Bauer counters, "Admission to the company of civilized nations should require, at the very least, civilized behavior. How can the free world be "free" if it admits to its ranks, for favored commercial and diplomatic treatment, a burgeoning superpower that is the very definition of tyranny?"
The battle is in some ways one of populists versus elites. Anti-MFN forces want to send messages to boardrooms and Beijing's halls of power; pro-MFN forces want to work through official channels. East Gates has worked with the Chinese government and its official church structure to bring Bibles and other evangelistic material into the country.
Mission groups who favor MFN speak of their close ties to China, and claim Chinese Christians do not want a change in trade status. They agree with business proponents who talk of China's economic learning curve, as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial did, and predict that China will grant greater personal freedoms when its middle class swells under free trade, sometime around 2015.
Anti-MFN groups, on the other hand, cite rising grass-roots interest in improving human rights in China as a reason to take action now. They say MFN has a cost at home since China imposes stiff import duties on many American-made goods. They focus on its present moral costs as well: American firms now compete to supply the communist government's Public Security Bureau with the computerware necessary to block "spiritual pollutants" on the Internet and to monitor e-mail activity.
When a National Retail Association spokesman said the price of athletic shoes would increase by 50 percent without MFN, Mr. Bauer replied, "Yes. Slave labor is cheap." (Incidentally, people in the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and Latin America could readily pick up the sneaker slack, in a way that would cost consumers in the United States only a bit more.)
Missionary groups are in a tight spot on MFN as well. Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, writes in an upcoming issue of Christianity Today: "It would be foolish for a tentmaking missionary publicly to denounce Chinese leader Jiang Zemin." But, Mrs. Knippers adds, "it would also be an abomination if the entire church turned a blind eye to its most vulnerable members."
Mr. Wolf fears no permanent rift in the evangelical community over this issue, but he does fear that Christians who favor MFN have missed the nuance behind the effort to revoke it.
"We aren't going to take MFN away from them," he says. What the MFN debate will lead to, he hopes, is a change in Clinton administration policy. Mr. Wolf wants a list of religious prisoners in the pocket of every American official who visits Beijing. He wants Chinese investors out of the White House. A stand against trade-as-usual, he believes, puts China's communist leaders on notice while also encouraging those who suffer for their faith.
"This is our way, blunt instrument it might be, of sending a message. A lot of what we do is sending a message-to use the prestige of the United States to open a jail cell."
Mr. Wolf has practice wielding sanctions. Trips to an Ethiopian refugee camp and to Romania under the harsh Ceaucescu regime in the early 1980s "radicalized" Mr. Wolf on the issue of human rights, he says. Visits inside Perm Camp 35 of the Soviet gulag and Beijing's Prison No. 1-places, he discovered, not too remote for political prisoners to be aware of congressional measures on their behalf-made him first see trade as a weapon of diplomacy, and one to be used on behalf of Christians.
"We are dealing with people's lives. If you've got a chip, cash it and use it," he says.
Mr. Wolf made news in 1986 by announcing that Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu was turning Bibles into toilet paper, and by presenting first-hand evidence of more brutal persecution. He introduced an amendment to cut off Romania's MFN for six months. That year his amendment did not get out of committee.
In 1987 it was introduced on the House floor and won a surprising victory, given bipartisan opposition Mr. Wolf says is very similar to what he is hearing now from those who want to keep China's MFN. Colleagues and leaders in both Christian and Jewish organizations conceded that Romania was ignoring basic freedoms, but worried that the United States would lose influence if it pulled out of a free-trade relationship. The Reagan administration opposed it, too, saying that revoking Romania's MFN would increase a trade deficit with Romania. They also said it would hamper quiet pressure by the State Department to improve human rights.
President Reagan later reversed that position and supported the sanctions. Two years after initial passage of Mr. Wolf's amendment, Mr. Ceausescu's regime fell.
As he talks, Mr. Wolf rifles through papers to quote from Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech. He finds the part where Mr. Reagan called on the audience at the National Association of Evangelicals convention in 1983 to "pray for the salvation of all those who live in that totalitarian darkness." He reads from the president's text quoting C. S. Lewis:
"The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."
Mr. Wolf returns to the president's words because "Reagan was on the right side of history. Remember his critics, who accused him of being belligerent when he called communism 'another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.' This vote [on MFN] will determine whether we are in this country and in this Congress on the right side of history."
With Hong Kong reverting to Chinese control July 1, the stakes in the MFN debate will grow. Next week China's economy moves from seventh to fourth largest in the world. MFN is granted to all but six countries, and it provides access to the U.S. market at the lowest possible tariff rate, about 5 percent.
Hong Kong seems likely to show in microcosm the difficulty of combining economic freedom with totalitarian rule. After Beijing appointed a shadow legislature of Communist Party sympathizers to replace Hong Kong's democratically elected legislature, the new assembly quickly took action to repeal or amend 25 laws and ordinances, including parts of its Bill of Rights. Permission to demonstrate, it said, must be requested a week in advance, and all meetings of 20 or more people must be registered with the government.
Hong Kong's Democratic Party, faced with parliamentary oblivion after the takeover, failed to obtain permission for a July 1 rally. Party leaders said they will enter the legislature anyhow, bearing a manifesto protesting the dissolution of the democratically elected assembly. They say they will resort to "civil disobedience" if blocked.
Gov.-designate Tung said the restrictions would be necessary to "balance freedom with responsibility"-yet another heavy-handed attempt at feng shui.