Foggy Ethics

The Foggy Bottom crowd was at it again last week. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Congress that engagement with China—that is, renewing its Most Favored Nation trade status—was the best way to influence China’s human- rights policies. "Engagement does not mean endorsement," Albright insisted. In a recent op-ed piece, the secretary of state beat the same economic drum. As the personal income of the Chinese goes up, she argued, the citizens will become enlightened, the country’s political policies will be liberalized, and- poof! -freedom and democracy will abound. This is nothing more than a reformulation of Marxist doctrine—economic determinism. If you improve the lot of the workers, the proletariat will arise, throw off its chains, and breathe free. Well, we saw how that worked in Russia, and today we see how well it’s working in China: It is not. Persecution in China has become so raw that even the apologists for China can’t deny it. Today more Christians languish in Chinese prisons than in any other nation in the world. Believers are arrested for preaching, distributing Bibles, and holding prayer meetings. They are torn from their families, thrown into work camps, beaten, and tortured. To understand why we need to get tough with Beijing, we have to look to the past—to the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Cold War was one of the great morality dramas of the twentieth century. We won it by taking the high moral ground. We didn’t surrender our principles, and we didn’t pander to tyrants. I know that, because in 1973 President Nixon sent me to Moscow to negotiate for the release of Soviet Jews. I told that hard-line Soviet negotiator, Vasily Kuznetsov, that unless the Soviets loosened their restrictions on Jewish emigration, Congress would not pass the trade treaty, which the Soviets desperately needed. Release the Jews, I said, or kiss American grain good-bye. Kuznetsov 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’." Kuznetsov finally backed down—and that year 35,000 Jews were released. The story is a reminder that great nations don’t stay great by looking the other way when people are being persecuted for their most basic of all human rights, the freedom of conscience. If our government renews China’s MFN status—if it surrenders to tyranny because of pressure from the Fortune 500 companies—we will have traded in democracy’s principles to line our own pockets. Congress is expected to vote on China’s MFN status by the end of this month. Please, get on the phone. Call your senators and representative. Ask them to vote "no" on China’s MFN renewal. The Most Favored Nation vote will ultimately say much more about us than it will about the Chinese. Even if a "no" vote doesn’t affect how China treats Christians, it’s the right thing to do.


Chuck Colson


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