China Mission: More than 'Ping-Pong Diplomacy'

Former NAE president Don Argue calls for engagement, not isolation.

A member of the State Department's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, Don Argue helped marshal evangelical leaders to the frontlines in the international campaign on behalf of persecuted Christians.

In February, Argue, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and now president of Northwest College, Seattle; Catholic Archbishop McCarrick; and Rabbi Schneier traveled to China for three weeks of meetings with top leaders in China's government and Communist party (CT, Apr. 6, 1998, p. 26). While security concerns prevented Argue from meeting with members of China's house churches, Rich Cizik, an NAE policy analyst, and Brent Fulton, managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies, both of whom traveled with the delegation, met one-on-one with house-church members to hear their views.

David Neff, CT executive editor, conducted the first in-depth interview of Argue following the delegation's return from China.

You have said your trip to China was not a fact-finding mission, because persecution is already well documented. But did you find out anything that surprised you? Did your perceptions change?
As far as we know, our trip was the first time the government officials at that level have been willing to sit down and talk about religious persecution and religious-freedom issues in China. I was surprised by that.

During your meetings, did you sense any resistance from Chinese officials?
The resistance from Chinese officials was the feeling that we'd come there to inspect, and they made it very clear on the first day, "We're here to talk about the issues."

We got to ask whatever we wanted to ask within certain constraints that they imposed on us. On one occasion with the vice chair of Jiangsu ...

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