China’s new two-child policy is less than a year old, but won’t stem the rising tide of human rights abuses despite the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts
It can be tempting to see China allowing married couples to now have two children as a positive step on the path to greater personal liberty, but Steven Mosher takes a more jaundiced view.
“What’s happened is that the Chinese Communist Party has decided to increase the production of babies, just like it decides to increase the production of tanks and guided missile destroyers,” said Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that challenges global overpopulation theories and spotlights human rights abuses in population control programs.
A member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, Mosher was the first American social scientist to visit Communist China in 1979. Under the aegis of the one-child policy, Mosher saw Chinese women taken into custody and forced to have abortions. Almost 40 years later, he argues, China has not abandoned its underlying philosophy that the state — not people — controls human reproduction. He envisions a future where the Chinese government may even force couples to have children against their will.
“That sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?” Mosher asked. “But is the planned birth policy anything other than taking from parents the natural right to decide the number of children they will raise and putting it in the hands of a government agency?”
China’s new two-child policy took effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Official state media reported the pending change last year as communist authorities sought to address some troubling demographic trends in the nation of 1.4 billion people.
China’s population is aging. According to United Nations estimates, the over-60 population will more than double to 437 million by 2050. At the same time, the national workforce is shrinking, and it is expected to continue falling for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, its one-child policy over 40 years has created a crippling imbalance in the numbers of Chinese men and women because many couples chose to abort female babies to raise boys who could be wage earners.
“The Chinese Communist Party has created for itself a demographic disaster with its one-child policy,” said Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a coalition of human rights activists and organizations that lobby against forced abortions, gendercide and sexual slavery in China. The nonprofit works to save baby girls in China with its Save A Girl campaign.
Littlejohn, who received Legatus’ Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award in 2014, said Women’s Rights Without Frontiers recently filed a complaint against China with the United Nations, alleging continued coercion and human rights abuses under the new two-child policy. The complaint notes several recent examples, including the story of a Guangdong couple who had been warned by authorities to abort their unborn child or lose their government jobs. The wife was eight months pregnant, according to state media reports.
“The Chinese Communist Party never said they were ending forced abortions or forced sterilizations. The two-child policy is their way to address the demographic disaster while keeping control over the population,” said Littlejohn, who quoted blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng. On Twitter, Guangcheng said China previously killed any couple’s second child.
“Now, they will kill any baby after two,” Littlejohn said. “In China, they boast that more than 400 million lives have been prevented by abortion because of the one-child policy. This is a massive problem. When you realize that one-fifth of the world’s population lives under this policy, this is the biggest human rights and women’s issue in the world today.”
China’s amended controlled-birth policy is taking effect as the Chinese Communist Party and the Holy See hold talks on establishing diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1951. Pope Francis has expressed a desire to visit China, and discussions have been ongoing for most of this year over some thorny issues that revolve around the authority to ordain bishops.
A few media reports have indicated that China and the Vatican may address those issues while establishing relations just short of full diplomatic ties, but Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, is not optimistic.
“There are dialogues and meetings, but the two parts remain in very different positions,” said Fr. Cervellera, who explained that the Vatican reserves the ultimate right to nominate and ordain bishops with a papal mandate and verify the positions of illicitly ordained bishops. On the other hand, Fr. Cervellera said, China is increasing its campaign to “sinicize” the Church in theology and in independence from Rome by insisting on the right to name bishops. China also wants the Vatican to accept its illicitly ordained bishops without any verification.
“The Vatican understands that China needs guarantees from the Church, and because of this, the Vatican agrees in the enrollment of priests and bishops by the State Administration of the Religious Affairs, which is a government bureau,” Fr. Cervellera explained. “But China wants the enrollment to happen through the Patriotic Association, which wants to build up an independent church — and that’s unacceptable for the Church’s doctrine.”
Further complicating the Vatican- Sino dialogue has been the Chinese government’s increasing pressure on religious communities, particularly Christians. Catholic bishops have been arrested and congregations harassed, intimidated and spied on. At least one Catholic prelate — Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai — is still under house arrest. Earlier this year a blog, purportedly written by Bishop Ma, surfaced where the bishop allegedly expressed regret for his statements four years ago when he disassociated himself from the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Bishop Ma has been a heroic figure for Chinese Catholics in the outlawed underground Church, which meets secretly in homes and declares allegiance to the Pope. Those in the underground Church are unlikely to enroll in the Patriotic Association if the Vatican agreed to that condition. Father Cervellera said Vatican- Sino dialogue could further fracture the Church in China.
Nathan Faries, an Asian studies professor at Bates College and author of The Inscrutably Chinese Church: How Narratives and Nationalism Continue to Divide Christianity, said Pope Francis might visit China, but added that the Catholic Church will still be under strict government control for the foreseeable future.
“The deal will not be an amazing game-changer; it will not be the death knell for the Chinese Communist Party,” Faries said.
“The CCP will maintain control over the Christians as much as it needs to. Some underground Churches in China will feel encouraged. The psychological effect will be great. There might be some openness and some less local persecution, but there will not suddenly be no underground, no sudden open-handed policy from the government. The palpable visible transformation will be miniscule.”
Meanwhile, Mosher warns against having diplomatic relations for the sake of diplomacy. He is also concerned for the countless heroic Catholics in the underground Church who have undergone persecution and martyrdom for their fidelity. He also noted recent studies that show millions of new Chinese converts to Christianity.
“People are tired of the spiritual emptiness of communism, economic reforms and the pursuit of material goods,” Mosher said. “They are longing and searching for the truth, for meaning in what is man and what is God. The Church should be there to answer those questions without getting too cozy with a communist government that has different goals in mind for getting people to heaven.”
BRIAN FARGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.