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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Religious leaders end 10-day trip to U.S.

September 16, 2008

Nicholas Kralev
Monday, September 15, 2008
Washington Times

Visiting Chinese religious leaders were to return home Monday after a 
10-day visit to the U.S. that included a last-minute threat by the 
Chinese Embassy to cancel an event with U.S.-based religious and human 
rights advocates if the Dalai Lama's representative and a former 
political prisoner took part, participants said.

As a result, previously extended invitations to special envoy Lodi 
Gyari and Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in a labor camp, were withdrawn 
less than three hours before dinner Thursday evening, which was hosted 
by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP).

"This dinner was supposed to foster an open dialogue, according to the 
Chinese, but it appears they want such dialogue even in America only 
on their terms," one participant said.

The embassy notified the institute Thursday afternoon that Mr. Gyari's 
and Mr. Wu's presence at the dinner was "unacceptable," another 
participant said. The hosts called the two men to apologize and asked 
them to send other representatives of their respective organizations.

Mr. Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, said in 
an interview that he sent an aide, as did Mr. Gyari, who heads the 
International Campaign for Tibet. Laogai is "China's extensive system 
of forced-labor prison camps," Mr. Wu said. He was sent there, he 
added, because of his Roman Catholic religion.

The Chinese Embassy declined to confirm the account and did not 
respond to e-mail messages seeking comment about the dinner and the 
visit in general.

Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim and Taoist leaders from 
organizations approved by the Chinese government were paying for what 
was billed as a historic 10-day visit to the United States. A Chinese 
Confucian scholar also participated. The group, scheduled to return to 
China on Monday, was accompanied by officials from China's State 
Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).

Mr. Wu said that the expected discussion on religious freedom did not 
take place at Thursday's dinner. "If you really want to come to the 
United States, you have to be ready to answer any questions," he said.

Participants at the event said the Chinese Embassy asked that the 
planned "open-question format be nixed" in favor of "dinner 
conversation." But because there were several tables, and all Chinese 
guests sat together, only nine of the more than 40 participants had a 
chance to talk to the visitors at the head table.

That small group included Jim Nicholson and Thomas Melady, former U.S. 
ambassadors to the Vatican; David Shear, director of the State 
Department´s China office; Thomas Farr of Georgetown University; and 
Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, who is also a member of the U.S. 
Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"I was quite pleased with the overall discussion," said Joseph 
Grieboski, IRPP´s founder and president. "The Chinese were not 
defensive. There were difficult questions, and they gave the official 
party line. One of them said that he wanted to say more but couldn't."

Ms. Shea said she "spoke frankly" to longtime SARA official Guo Wei 
and "raised specific well-known cases with her," but she said she was 
not familiar with them.

"[Ms. Guo] promised to look into any list I gave her. I sent the list 
through the Chinese Embassy ," Ms. Shea said. "She also said that 
religious leaders are jailed in China for 'breaking the law' and not 
for religious reasons We got into a discussion on just laws and 
inalienable rights."

In addition to the dinner, visitors participated in events at the 
Brookings Institution and Georgetown University last week. They also 
met with officials at the State Department and on Capitol Hill.

"There were informative, frank and open discussions about the role of 
religion in China, and an opportunity for the religious leaders to 
share some of their experiences with people here," said Dee Froeber, a 
minister at the Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., who 
helped facilitate the visit. "There were differences of opinion, 
definitions and solutions" regarding religious freedom, he said. "But 
the visit was an excellent first step for the [Chinese] leaders to 
have a dialogue with people who care deeply about these issues in the 
United States."
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