China Blocks U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy
February 17, 2012
Protestors have been gathered outside of the buildings where high-level meetings are being held. One bombshell released by religious freedom advocates this week: an official snub to a religious envoy.
Lindsay Vessey, the advocacy coordinator for Open Doors USA, explains. "Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook, who is the ambassador for international religious freedom, was supposed to go to China earlier this month to meet with a number of people who have been persecuted for their faith. She was actually denied her visa by the Chinese government."
Meetings Johnson-Cook was to have been a part of were cancelled. Without meetings, China said there was no reason to need a visit. Interestingly, the snub was already known in Washington prior to Xi's arrival. Vessey says, "One of the things that was stated by these advocates who kind of broke the story is that the State Department, and the Obama Administration actually directed that they not talk about the denied visa in advance of Xi Jinping's visit."
In a time when China is concerned about its internal security, "They've increased their internal security budget even more than their national defense budget," says Vessey. "They believe often that people who are Christians, Falun Gang practitioners, or Muslims are a threat to State security."
Such scrutiny makes it all the more important for Johnson-Cook to speak out. The silence from Washington was deafening. Vessey says the lack of open support could undermine any further work Johnson-Cook tries to accomplish in other areas. "This is basically demonstrating to the Chinese government that religious freedom really isn't that important to this administration, that they're not willing to stick their neck out and speak publicly."
Xi defended Beijing's human-rights record, but Vessey says sweeping China's treatment of religious minorities cannot be ignored. "That's concerning [us] because when a government isn't willing to treat their own people well, why should we trust them in other matters?"
Vessey notes the job will be more complicated now. "I think it's going to make things more difficult because in the past, we've had administrations that were more willing to be vocal in support of Christians and other faith groups that are persecuted. And when the Chinese government is aware that people are watching and that people are trying to hold them accountable, that really makes a difference."
Disclosure drew criticism, but it had the intended effect. As the stir grew, the story seems to have changed a bit. Now, White House spokesman Jay Carney says that Chinese officials have told the White House they are working on dates for Johnson-Cook's visit.
The envoy post was created as part of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which seeks to promote religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy and to advocate on behalf of individuals viewed as persecuted in foreign countries due to their religion.
Cook is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post.
Source: Mission Network News