Monday, January 10, 2000

China’s insistence on
controlling Catholics

Bullet The issue: The state-controlled Chinese Catholic church has ordained five bishops.
Bullet Our view: The ceremony was performed on the same day that Pope John Paul II ordained 12 bishops as a way of expressing Beijing's determination to control religious activity.

WHILE continuing its persecution of Falun Gong, a home-grown spiritual group based on Buddhism and Taoism, China is also reasserting its insistence on control of Western religions. Defying the Vatican, the state-controlled Catholic church ordained five bishops last Thursday.

The ceremony was performed at Beijing's historic South Cathedral the same day that Pope John Paul II ordained 12 bishops from seven other countries in a ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica.

China rejects the pope's authority to appoint and consecrate bishops, and Thursday's ceremony seemed to be timed to underscore Beijing's defiance.

A spokesman for the China Patriotic Catholic Association insisted implausibly that China's state church didn't know about the Vatican schedule. But the Vatican called the ordinations in Beijing a disappointing setback after signals that the two sides were ready to improve relations.

China and the Vatican have had no formal relations since 1951. Upon seizing power, the Communist Party expelled foreign missionaries and forced Catholics to sever ties with the Vatican.

Many Chinese priests and nuns fled to Taiwan and the Vatican established relations with the Nationalist government.

Now Beijing is interested in wooing Taiwan's last remaining diplomatic allies, of which the Vatican is one. For its part, the Vatican wants to re-establish its hold over the Chinese church. The stumbling block remains papal authority, most prominently asserted through the pope's appointment of bishops.

By the official church's count, there are 5 million Catholics in China, with 60,000 new members each year. Foreign scholars put the total at 12 million, many of whom worship in illegal private groups.

Overseas monitoring groups say persecution of Catholics worshipping outside state control persists in some areas, with arrests of both priests and worshippers.

What is at issue here -- as in the case of Falun Gong -- is the government's determination to control all organizations, including religious groups. This is an issue on which the church cannot back down.

Freedom of religion, an essential of a democratic society, is an alien concept in the Chinese Communist system. Until that changes, the regime's claims to be a respecter of human rights cannot be taken seriously.

Airline hijacking

Bullet The issue: The hijacking of an Indian Airlines airliner has inflamed relations between Indian and Pakistan.
Bullet Our view: Leaders of both countries must behave responsibly and live up to their pledges to try to ease tensions.

THE ending of the airline hijacking in South Asia on the last day of 1999 without further bloodshed was a relief, but a short-lived one. The incident has further inflamed smoldering tensions between India and Pakistan.

Unless cooler heads prevail, the hijacking could lead to more fighting.

Both governments need to back off. They have fought three wars over the past half-century -- two of them over Kashmir -- and both now have nuclear weapons. They came close to another war over Kashmir last summer.

Five hijackers seized the Indian Airlines flight after it took off from Nepal Dec. 24. The plane went on an odyssey across South Asia and the Middle East before landing Dec. 25 at an airport in southern Afghanistan. It remained there until Dec. 31, when the hijackers freed their hostages -- 155 passengers and crew -- in exchange for three Islamic militants held by India and then disappeared.

India has accused Pakistan of masterminding the hijacking and says that all five hijackers were Pakistani. Pakistan has condemned the hijacking and dismissed the allegations.

India accuses Pakistan of sending infiltrators into its part of Kashmir, but Pakistan denies the charge, maintaining that Kashmir's separatist movement is an indigenous struggle. However, Muslim militant groups often recruit Pakistanis to fight in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

The most prominent of the militants released in exchange for the hostages, the Pakistani cleric Maulana Masood Azhar, has declared a holy war against India and called for volunteers to fight for Kashmir. Azhar made the appeal in an address before tens of thousands of people outside a mosque in his hometown of Bawahalpur, Pakistan.

"Indian soldiers are killing our brothers and raping our innocent sisters," he said. "The world should tell us which is a bigger crime -- the plane hijacking or Indian atrocities in Kashmir?"

On the Indian side, the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been criticized for the lax security that permitted the hijackers to board the plane as well as the decision to release the Islamic militants to win the release of the hostages.

Since both India and Pakistan exploded nuclear devices in 1998, the two governments have repeatedly pledged to engage in dialogue over Kashmir and other sources of tension. The hijacking and the resulting heightening of tension make it all the more important that their leaders act more responsibly.

Somehow the will must be found to resolve the festering problem of Kashmir, which has plagued both countries since their founding.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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