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Approach Beijing with caution Vatican warned

OTTAWA (SE): “We should be under no illusion that as China engages more and more with the political, economic and social frameworks of the world, that that is having any impact on their human rights record,” the former ambassador for religious freedom from Canada, Andrew Bennett, said in warning the Catholic Church that in its negotiations with China it should have no illusions in approaching Beijing.

Speaking at the Sixth Annual Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom held in Ottawa on April 3, Bennett said, “The Holy See is now in a process of trying to reach some kind of consensus with the Chinese government on the role between the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Roman Catholic Church.”

While pointing out that religious freedom and human rights go hand in hand, Bennett issued a warning to both religions and governments that are seeking deeper involvement with China that they need to hold China’s feet to the fire and he believes that the Vatican is no exception.

“I would caution the Holy See to be careful about whom they are engaging with, because there seems to be no desire on the part of the Chinese government to shift their approach, certainly not with Catholics,” Bennett continued.

Bennett pointed out that a recent Pew Research study shows that in today’s world some 75 per cent of people live in a situation where their religious freedom is significantly limited and their human rights mostly ignored.

He pointed out that China is also currently placed on top of the list of countries in the Pew Research Centre survey for placing restrictions on religious freedom.

“Too often we treat China as special,” Bennett explained, saying that it appears that people tend to treat it as if it has different values and culture. “This is an argument for moral relativism at its worst. Either we defend religious freedom or not,” Bennett stressed.

The former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney, also counselled caution, describing Beijing as being caught in the grip of a blood-stained ideology, which reduces everything and everyone to the purely material, and placing an atheistic perspective on it.

Mulroney explained that he believes that it is a deep and profound insecurity that prompts the Chinese Communist Party in particular to act in a repressive manner, as it is highly insecure about its hold on power.

As a result, he said that it has an inclination to repress, punish and silence those who aspire to a deeper and richer vision of human rights.

Mulroney explained that this applies to almost anything that inspires people to think independently and imaginatively, so it embraces philosophers, painters and poets, in addition to religions.

Reflecting on his time in China as Canada’s ambassador, Mulroney described visiting an unregistered House Church, saying that everyone in the room is considered to be complicit in an illegal act, simply because the space has not been designated as one of worship by the government.

“But we were also enjoying the freedom granted us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that speaks of worship has having a private as well as a public dimension,” he said.

What may be described as excess caution prompted by insecurity on the part of Beijing was illustrated by the presence of Anastasia Lin at the evening hosted by David Anderson, the official opposition critic for International Human Rights and Religious Freedom, under the theme of Religious Freedom in China; Stories and perspectives.

Lin is an award winning actor and beauty pageant titleholder, but most significantly she is an avowed human rights advocate.

She has walked the most prestigious catwalks in the world, as well as speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, the Oxford Union and the Geneva Human Rights Summit, in addition to testifying before the United States of America Congress, the United Kingdom parliament and Taiwan’s Legislative Assembly.

When in 2015, as Miss World Canada, she applied to take part in the Miss World pageant in China, she was refused a visa and declared persona non grata by Beijing because of her outspoken views on China’s human rights record and religious persecution, particularly the Falun Gong.

Both Mulroney and Bennett spoke strongly of the responsibility of the Canadian people to stand up for religious freedom, adding that freedom of conscience abroad must be seen to support these things clearly and unequivocally at home.

“Getting this right matters,” Mulroney stressed.

The Parliamentary Forum takes as its patron John Diefenbaker, Canada’s prime minister from 1957 to 1963, adopting his words that the heritage of freedom that he enjoyed he would also fight to uphold both for himself and for all humankind, as its motto.

The former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, was the recipient of the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award in 2013.

In making the presentation in Vancouver, John Baird, the minister for foreign affairs, said, “But we are here together peacefully as Canadians, sharing the belief that everyone should have the freedom to pursue their own beliefs.”

In response, Cardinal Zen echoed the sentiments of Diefenbaker, saying that the Church is now being accused of meddling in mainland politics, but he then questioned, “But how can we keep silent, when our brothers and sisters are being deprived of real religious freedom?”

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