U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Cancels Trip to China

( [email protected] ) Aug 08, 2003 12:15 PM EDT

BEIJING, China — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom canceled its trip to China to protest “unacceptable last-minute conditions" imposed by Beijing authorities, August 8. The trip, initially planned for next week after six months of diplomatic negotiations, has been indefinitely postponed by the federal agency.

In it’s statement, the commission stated that China introduced 11th-hour restrictions on the group's itinerary, including pressure not to visit Hong Kong. China has controlled Hong Kong since the end of British colonial rule in 1997, but it is governed under a separate administration.

"This action on the part of the Chinese government suggests a degree of Chinese control over foreign access to Hong Kong that is unprecedented and in contradiction to the concept of `one country, two systems,' " said Michael K. Young, the chairman of the commission. "It further raises the concern that just six years after the handover, Hong Kong's autonomy is already seriously in doubt."

Though it is not clear why the Beijing authorities blocked the visit to Hong Kong, the U.S. State Department acknowledged Chinese authorities have in the past been concerned about foreign groups' using Hong Kong's relatively open media as a platform to criticize China.

The commission said the Chinese authorities had also not provided a final list of confirmed meetings with government and Communist Party officials responsible for religious policy. In addition, it said, they did not offer assurances that members of the commission would be able to visit places of worship and talk with nongovernment religious leaders without interference.

"In light of the circumstances and last-minute limitations, the commission could not accede the conditions, and the trip was postponed," the statement said.

Nonetheless, according to deputy spokesman Philip Reeker, the department called for the commission and China to reach a speedy compromise.

"We urge that the trip take place as soon as possible."