MFN Renewal Debate Polarizes Evangelicals

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With the spotlight on China's persecution of Christians, American evangelicals are sharply divided on whether renewal of China's status as a regular trading partner with the United States will help or harm the cause of religious freedom.

On May 19, President Clinton renewed Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status with China, meaning that the country receives the same tariff rates on imported goods as any other regular trading partner. Congress has until August to overturn the President's decision. If China's MFN status had not been renewed, tariffs on Chinese goods—and Hong Kong's after July 1—would have risen drastically. According to the Family Research Council (FRC), the wholesale price of a typical imported toy would jump to $34 from $20.

Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson made a decision last year to boycott Chinese goods. Each day that Colson looks at the big, clunky calculator he bought instead of the more common compact ones made in China, he remembers the difficulty of fighting the persecution of Chinese Christians.

"I discovered that in some things, like hand-held calculators, it is virtually impossible not to buy things from China," Colson says. "I ended up buying a big desktop calculator, but at least it is made in Malaysia."

Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program on Religious Freedom for Freedom House in Washington, D.C., says such incidents illustrate "why China is the foremost example of the human-rights dilemma of how to treat a trading partner."

RELIGION TO THE FOREFRONT: Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have taken center stage in what has become a pivotal foreign-policy debate. FRC President Gary Bauer says, "This is the most high profile and significant mobilization of conservative Christians ...

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