Pelosi Raises Human Rights Concerns in China
By Paul Kane
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime critic of the Chinese government, met over the weekend with a Catholic priest in Shanghai who spent nearly three decades in prison. She also sought to link human rights causes to the effort to reduce carbon emissions in the world's most polluted nation.
The California Democrats' actions during her week-long trip to China amounted to most outspoken critique offered by a U.S. official on mainland China since President Obama took office in January. However, Pelosi's moves were not likely to spark much anger among her official Chinese hosts, given the venues she chose to voice her displeasure with Beijing.
Pelosi met on Sunday with Catholic Bishop Jin Luxian, who spent 27 years in prison until his release in 1982, to discuss religious freedom. While he was once part of the insurgent wing of Catholic priests fighting Mao Zedong's regime for freedom to worship in the 1950s, Jin has since become a controversial figure in the global Catholic movement because of his willingness to work within the confines of the officially sanctioned Catholic Church in China. Jin is now the bishop of Shanghai.
"We were honored to meet with Bishop Jin and listen to his wise words about religious freedom in China, his relationship with Catholic leaders around the world, and the challenges of misunderstanding and prejudice in the world today," Pelosi, who is Catholic, said in a statement released from Shanghai.
A 2007 profile of Jin in The Atlantic sparked some angry denunciations from other Catholic organizations, who see the true spiritual leader of Chinese Catholics being the late Ignatius Pin-Mei Cardinal Kung.
Like Jin, Kung was imprisoned in the 1950s and released in the mid-1980s, but Kung refused to join the government-run church, which does not recognize papal authority in Rome. So Kung fled to the United States and then Rome, dying in 1999.
Today, at a gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce, Pelosi gave voice to the cause of human rights in China, a decades-old cause of hers. "Protecting human rights has been a top priority for me throughout my career in Congress," she told the U.S. business leaders in Shanghai, according to a transcript sent out by her office. "I will continue to speak out for human rights in China and around the world. Indeed, protecting the environment is a human rights issue. We hope to send a clear message that transparency, accountability, enforcement, and respect for the rule of law are essential if we are to protect our planet,"
Next week marks the 20th annivesary of the Chinese government's attack on dissidents on Tiananmen Square, making this time a highly sensitive juncture for Chinese officials who are trying to tamp down any signs of memorializing the event.
Pelosi's comments put her on a slightly different path than Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who on her maiden voyage to China in February downplayed human rights issues altogether. "We pretty much know what [Beijing is] going to say," Clinton said on the issue of Chinese abuses in Tibet.
Before departing on her trip Pelosi refused repeated entreaties from reporters to discuss human rights issues.
While her actions in Shanghai set her apart from Clinton, Pelosi has toned down her actions from her first years in Congress. In 1991 she was part of a contingent that unfurled a banner memorializing those that had been killed in and around Tiananmen Square in June 1989 when the Chinese military ended a protest movement by firing on college students and other protestors.
May 25, 2009; 1:50 PM ET
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