Since the release of two major reports on international religious freedom last week, China has repeatedly denied its poor record while foreign groups have been pressing on it for a change.
The annual International Religious Freedom Report and Policy Focus on China were released by the U.S. Department of State on last Tuesday and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Wednesday, respectively.
In the first report, China was again re-designated as one of the eight "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs) for its severe violation of religious freedom. "The Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups," states the annual report.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao last Thursday described the U.S. State Departments criticism as "unreasonable", insisting "all ethnic groups and people across the country enjoy religious freedom" and "citizens' religious rights are protected in accordance with its law", according to the State-run Xinhua news agency.
On Sunday, Nov. 13, Liu again rejected a second report, this time released by the USCIRF, according to a statement released on the Foreign Ministry's website. He argued that China has already shown effort in strengthening mutual understanding between the religious circles of the two countries by inviting the USCIRF for a trip to China in August.
Despite the effort, the USCIRF report following the landmark visit criticized "the limited freedom and human rights protections among certain religious groups" in China, such as the Catholics and Protestants.
According to a leading Chinese newspaper, the Peoples Daily, Liu complained that even though USCIRF had appeared satisfactory in a series of meetings arranged by China's State Administration for Religious Affairs throughout the trip, the report "ignored truth and reversed right and wrong, attacking and slandering China's religious situation and policies."
Liu, once again, demanded for the United States to stop its "intervention" in China's internal affairs in regards to religion, and to take more actions that will promote China-U.S. relations, Peoples Daily reported.
Earlier this week, U.S. President George W. Bush kicked off his weeklong trip to Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia. Observers say his meeting in China may be overshadowed by the disagreements over religious freedom between the two countries.
"It's a mixed relationship," Bush told a reporter for Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based network, last Friday. "There is a lot of good that we're doing together. And there's a lot of areas where we might not have full agreement."
On the same day, White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told Agence France Presse (AFP) reporters that President Bush would say on his visit that "as President Hu pursues his vision of peaceful development, he will find that greater individual freedom to worship, to speak and to pursue prosperity will strengthen his country."
Bush has vowed to push China on religious freedom during his third visit there since taking office, AFP reported. The president is expected to arrive in Beijing, China on Saturday, Nov. 19, and he would like to attend Christian religious services with Chinese worshippers, sources from the White House said.