By Kent Larsen
Beijing Sees Pro-Mormon Push Behind Bush Appointments of Huntsman, Gong
WASHINGTON, DC -- The expected appointments of two LDS Church members to
posts in the Bush administration that deal with China has upset Chinese
officials. The Chinese object to the appointments of LDS Church members Jon
M. Huntsman Jr. as US Ambassador to China and Gerrit W. Gong as the National
Security Council staff's China specialist, claiming that their appointments
indicate that China is less of a priority for the administration. They also
see behind the appointments an attempt to promote religious freedom in China
and push the country to accept Mormon missionaries.
Huntsman, who is vice chairman of Huntsman Corp., and the son of LDS
billionaire Jon M. Huntsman, was a former Commerce Department assistant
secretary and US Ambassador to Singapore in the George Bush administration.
He was also George W. Bush's campaign chairman for Utah, and his family were
large donors for the Republicans. Since ambassadorial positions in smaller,
less strategic nations are often political appointments awarded to a
president's supporters, Chinese officials apparently see the appointment of
Huntsman as a reward for political support.
Chinese officials were more pointed in their criticisms of Gong, according
to a recent article in the Washington DC Times. Gong, an expert on China at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a non-partisan think
tank in Washington DC that analyzes the impact of government policies), is
considered weak by the Chinese, lacking the stature of previous appointees
to the NSC staff.
But beyond the qualifications of Huntsman and Gong, the Chinese see in their
appointments an attempt by the Bush administration to push religious freedom
and open China to LDS missionaries. "This is an aggressive maneuver to push
Mormon missionaries into China," one Chinese official reportedly told the
Washington Times' sources.
China is in the middle of a crackdown on the Falun Gong religious sect that
has even led to the bulldozing of buildings belonging to unofficial
Christian sects in southern China. Since the LDS Church has no buildings,
and few members in China, outside of Hong Kong, no LDS Church members or
property were involved in the recent crackdowns. The crackdown on the Falun
Gong has been an almost daily news story in the US, leading to calls from
civil libertarians and activists for the administration to act to promote
religious freedom in China.
The Times' report says that Bush administration officials tried to explain
that the religion of the two men was a coincidence, and not part of a policy
to push China toward religious freedom or to admitting LDS missionaries.
Inside the Ring: China pique
Washington DC Times 2Jan01 T2
By Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough
[Submitted by: Justin Hart ]