China recruits US-based Christian leader in its quest for PNTR

AFP/May 12, 2000

BEIJING, May 12 (AFP) - 19:23 - Beijing has recruited a US-based Christian leader in an attempt to lend credence to its claim of increased religious freedom and gain much-needed Congressional votes for permanent normal trade relations, it was revealed Friday.

In exchange, the government has apparently agreed to allow Christian television broadcasting in China in what is believed to be an unprecedented move.

The company allowed access is Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Christian broadcasting company in the United States.

Paul Crouch, founder and executive director of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), said at a press conference Friday his group has been granted permission to broadcast its programs in more than 3,000 hotels and international compounds in China in about two months.

The government has also agreed to allow TBN to broadcast on China's cable channels in the near future, he said.

Officials at China's State Bureau of Religious Affairs and State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said they were not aware of the agreement.

Crouch insisted he was not a stooge of the government and was not speaking well of religious rights in China in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

"The agreement of giving us access in China is just a natural outcome of these meetings. There's no quid pro quo," he said.

He said Americans have a distorted and unbalanced view of religious freedom in China and the government's crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement.

"China's reaction to dealing with the subversive Falungong cult has been inaccurately portrayed by the secular media," Crouch said.

"It has been reported that China is exercising religious oppression instead of the truth that the government is only attempting to protect its citizens from this deadly and dangerous Jim Jones like type of cult, which encourages citizens to break the law and commit suicide."

He said religious freedom has greatly improved in China, pointing to what he saw in his week-long visit.

Crouch urged Americans to support permanent normal trade relationsand said granting PNTR to China would be mutually beneficial to both countries and would help foreign companies gain broadcasting rights in China.

Greg Rice, head of TBN's Asian affiliate TBN Miracle Network, said TBN had received verbal approval to broadcast its 24-hour programming in China and was expecting a final go-ahead once the paperwork was completed and technical details worked out.

"I think it would be the first time ever Christian programming will be allowed to air in China since 1949, and probably ever, because they didn't have TV's around back then," Rice said.

Renowned US-based relgious leader Pat Robertson, who heads the Christian Broadcasting Network, the second biggest network, has also been asked to visit China, Crouch said.

Robertson will be in China next month and is scheduled to meet with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, Rice said.

Crouch said his trip came about after Li Zhaoxing, China's ambassador to the United States, asked him to visit China to see the religious freedom enjoyed by various groups and hear the government's views on why it is cracking down on the Falungong.

"I was asked if our Christian organization could support China in its efforts to join WTO," Crouch said.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote in the week beginning May 22 on whether to permanently grant China trading privileges enjoyed by almost all of the United States' other trading partners.

The move is being met with strong opposition from human and religious rights groups which fear removing the annual review of China's trading status would cause rights violation to worsen.

TBN has 1,400 affiliate T.V. stations and over 5,000 cable T.V. systems from 16 satellites in 130 nations, the group said.

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