The United States should not grant permanent normal trade relations status to China until it makes significant changes to improve religious freedom, a federal commission on religious liberty overseas recommended May 1.In the first mandated report of its existence, the Commission on International Religious Freedom contradicted President Clinton and the Republican congressional leadership by urging a hold on PNTR for China without swift improvements. Congress is scheduled to act on trade relations for the communist giant in late May, when a close vote is expected.The report by the panel included recommendations also on United States policies that could help religious liberty in Sudan and Russia. The commission had said its first year of work would concentrate on those three countries.To measure improvement by China on religious freedom, the nine-member panel provided the following benchmarks:

  • China should begin a high-level dialogue with the United States government on religious liberty.
  • Beijing should ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which it has signed.
  • It should allow the commission and human rights groups unfettered access to imprisoned religious leaders.
  • The government should respond to inquiries regarding those imprisoned for religious reasons.
  • Beijing should release all religious prisoners.

Congress also should announce it will hold yearly hearings on religious and other human rights in China and invite the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, to speak at a joint session, the panel recommended.The commission would accept substantial progress toward these goals in place of completion, said panel chairman David Saperstein at a news conference at which the report was released."We ...

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