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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Could Feel Religious Right's Wrath

The China crisis is arriving a little early for Washington's comfort. The assumption in the White House had always been that the trouble would start after China resumed its sovereignty of Hong Kong, and began blundering into the various trip wires that the West will be watching.

There are three. The first is the freedom of the press, and last week, China installed a 76-year-old former editor of its English-language mouthpiece, the China Daily, in the office of the British editor of the South China Morning Post. Ominous, but hardly crucial, since the old editor, Jonathan Fenby, remains at least nominally in charge.

The second trip wire is freedom of assembly, and last week the incoming China-backed government announced tough new laws that require demonstrations to get police permission a week in advance. Political parties may be outlawed on grounds of "national security, public safety, public order and protection of public rights or morals."

That should cover just about everything, as Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong's largest political group, the Democratic Party, wants to tell President Bill Clinton when he gets to see him this week.

The third big trip wire, and the most contentious in the United States, is trade. Ever since Clinton bowed to the power of the U.S. commercial lobby and dropped his 1992 campaign promise to link trade to human rights, this was assumed to be manageable. The Republicans were equally assumed to be reliable supporters of the annual renewal of China's most-favored-nation trade status.

Suddenly, these assumptions have collapsed. The first reason for this is that Speaker Newt Gingrich is under heavy fire form his own right wing, and has been shoring up support by sounding increasingly tough with China.

Gingrich's support for renewal of most-favored-nation trade status is no longer assured. Nor is that of the Republican right, because the second reason why the China crisis is arriving early is that the religious right has suddenly joined forces with the labor unions and the human rights lobby to oppose it.

"Unless it changes its ways, China should be a disfavored nation in every aspect of U.S. foreign policy," warns Gary Bauer, who runs the Family Research Council, one of the main think tanks for religious conservatives.

"For social conservatives the most compelling -- though not the only -- reason is repression of China's growing religious community. The government views as subversive the estimated 100 million Buddhists, 17 million Muslims, 8 million Catholics and 30 million Protestants worshipping outside the state-controlled 'patriotic church' system."

Bauer has put together a coalition that includes the formidable Christian coalition, the Southern Baptist Convention and an array of religious groups with a total membership of 25 million, all of them now agitating about China's trade status.

Russia should pay close attention to this, because Moscow recalls better than most countries the political costs of becoming a target of America's organized religions. And in July, President Boris Yeltsin will join the G-7 heads of state summit in Denver, just as the Hong Kong trip wires start to tremble, and the other leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations all start to focus on what kind of China is emerging, and what they can do to steer the new superpower into acceptable ways.