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The conscience of Congress

Q&A | Long-time human-rights activist Rep. Frank Wolf wants U.S. foreign policy to focus on freedom of thought and human rights more than free and fair votes

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

For nearly 32 of his 73 years, Rep. Frank Wolf has represented Virginia's 10th Congressional District, which runs from the Washington suburb of McLean to the West Virginia border. He was elected initially as a transportation expert, but trips to Ethiopia and Romania in 1984 and 1985 opened his eyes to assaults on human rights and religious freedom: He tells that story in Prisoner of Conscience (Zondervan, 2011). Here are edited excerpts from a recent interview at Patrick Henry College.

The growth of Christianity in China has made that country a frontline in the battle of freedom vs. oppression. What's happening there? Hundreds of pastors are under house arrest and in prison. The faith community is growing dramatically. A lot of change is taking place. Demographics in China have not been very favorable to the Chinese. They are becoming an older nation. They have the one-child policy. You are finding many Chinese men who can't find Chinese wives.

That's because of abortion generally, but particularly the abortion of girl babies? That's correct. There are many abortions to get to the point where a boy is born. So, China has a lot of problems.

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And some Chinese leaders would like to give the United States lots of problems? China is as much a threat to us today as al-Qaeda is a threat to us today. Economically, it's a major threat. Spying. Two months ago Mike Rogers, the chairman of our intelligence committee, said there are two kinds of companies in America: those who have been hit with a cyber attack and know it, and those who have been hit with a cyber attack and don't know it. The Chinese came in and took everything off my computer.

How'd they do that? Cyber attack. They took my schedule, every human-rights case I worked on. Seventeen members of Congress, including myself, and the International Relations Committee: stripped. They have a very aggressive cyber program not only for military aspects but for industrial secrets. A large portion of their gains in the space program have come from industrial espionage.

Do you distinguish between the Chinese government and the Chinese people? The Chinese people are wonderful. There's a basic cavity freedom fills and they want it. They are making economic progress. In my lifetime or shortly after we will see dramatic change in China-but the Chinese government is not our friend.

Could the growth of Christianity in China make life better there and also be the saving grace in China-U.S. relations? That's my hope. That's my expectation. Quite frankly, that's my prayer. I pray for that every single night. I was at an event in 1990. There was an elderly lady with an Eastern European accent. She asked me why I thought the Soviet Union failed. I gave her a classic Republican answer: Ronald Reagan put the cruise missiles in and Ronald Reagan did this and Ronald Reagan did that. She said to me, "No, I don't think that was the reason. The reason is that millions of us have been praying for the fall of communism and the defeat of the Soviet Union." All of the sudden it hit me. As a kid, every night before going to bed, I would pray for the defeat of the Soviet Union. I think prayer will have a great impact on China.

How can we help Christians imprisoned in China? By adopting prisoners of conscience and their families, as the faith community did regarding Soviet prisoners from the 1960s through the '80s. Back then, the warden in Camp 35 could not understand all the mail he was getting about a particular prisoner, but he thought, "I ought to care about this guy, make sure he has enough food, that he's not hurt so I don't get in trouble." Writing letters to the dissidents, meeting with their families, and praying for them can make a tremendous difference.

Why are we acting so differently toward China than we did toward the Soviet Union? I think it's because so many businesses are doing business with China. American businesses were not doing business with the Russians. Today, communist China has a large number of some of the very best law firms in Washington representing them. Economically, we have become so entangled with China. Politically, you have neither Democratic nor Republican leaders speaking out about these issues the way Reagan, Scoop Jackson, and others did.

Turning to the Middle East, are you optimistic or pessimistic about our attempts to bring democracy to Afghanistan? I led the first delegation to Afghanistan with Congressmen Joe Pitts and Tony Hall when the war broke out. You can't just replicate American democracy in Afghanistan. It's just not going to work.

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