Cablegate: Former President Carter Discusses Religious Freedom During

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1. (U) The message contains sensitive but unclassified
information. Not for distribution on the internet.

2. (U) SUMMARY: Former President Jimmy Carter, former First Lady
Rosalynn Carter, and officials from the Carter Center and
Habitat for Humanity, traveled to Sichuan Province November 19
to meet volunteers at a Habitat home-building project in
Qionglai City, 80 kilometers southwest of Chengdu. At a press
conference there, Carter thanked Chinese officials for their
cooperation with Habitat, and appealed for increased cooperation
and religious freedom. The media, in widespread coverage,
praised Carter's spirit of volunteerism as an example that
Chinese leaders should follow. Post took advantage of visit to
highlight the 30th anniversary of US-PRC diplomatic relations,
including Carter's historical role.

3. (SBU) In a private conversation with Consul General,
President Carter recalled how Deng Xiaoping had promised Carter
expanded religious freedom, leading China to: adopt a related
clause in its 1982 constitution; and allow the printing and
availability of bibles in China. Carter, noting the Carter
Center's work in monitoring village-level elections in China,
expressed disappointment that current President Hu Jintao had
done little to expand the freedom of the Chinese people. END

Habitat for Humanity's Sichuan Project


4. (U) Former President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr., Former
First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and representatives from the Carter
Center and Habitat for Humanity International traveled to
Sichuan Province to visit November 19 the site of a Habitat
home-building project in the earthquake disaster zone. The
visit was part of Habitat for Humanity's 2009 Jimmy and Rosalynn
Carter Work Project, which took place November 15-20 with
projects in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; Phnom Penh,
Cambodia; Vientiane, Laos; and Qionglai City, Sichuan Province,
China. Consulate supported the delegation with public affairs,
logistical, security, medical, and motorcade support.

5. (U) Habitat for Humanity focused the project's China visit on
Qionglai City (population 650,000, 80 kilometers southwest of
Chengdu). Habitat is working with government authorities in
Qionglai to build a series of multi-story homes, with the goal
of providing safe, affordable and decent housing for poor
families. Habitat plans to complete homes for 300 families
during the first phase and hopes to work with the government to
expand the project to a total of 1,200 families. During the
week of November 15-20, more than 200 Chinese, American, and
third-country volunteers worked in unseasonably cold weather to
complete 20 homes as part of the first phase.

Carter Urges Expansion of Cooperation,

Notes Improved Religious Freedoms


6. (U) At a press conference, Carter appealed for continued
cooperation to allow Habitat to expand its work in China. He
also took the opportunity to stress American values of equality,
highlighting that on a Habitat project there was no distinction
between rich or poor, inferior or superior. He concluded his
press conference by alluding to the importance of religious
freedom in China. When asked to comment on his observations of
how China had changed since his first visit, he said, "I was in
China in 1949. Everyone was dressed exactly the same. No one
could move from one village to another~. There was no freedom of
worship. No bibles were permitted in China. Now, everything
has changed. China is a great, growing nation, economically and
politically. There is freedom of worship throughout China.
Bibles are distributed freely, and you have one of the greatest

CHENGDU 00000270 002.2 OF 003

economic systems in the world." (Note: Carter traveled to China
as a young man just a few months before the establishment of the
PRC. End Note.)

Carter Recalls Deal with Deng on Religious Freedom,

Expresses Disappointment with Hu Jintao

--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) In a private conversation with Consul General in route
to the work site, Carter recalled one meeting with Chinese
leader Deng Xiaoping, in which Deng thanked Carter for "being a
great friend of China," and asked Carter if "China could do
anything to repay him." Carter explained that he made three
requests to Deng: 1) expanded religious freedom for the Chinese
people; 2) the free printing and distribution of bibles in
China; and 3) permission for missionaries to operate freely in
China. The next day, Deng said that he: 1) would expand
religious freedom for Chinese, 2) would allow the
printing/distribution of bibles; but 3) could not allow
missionaries to come to China. Carter then noted that Deng had
later included a clause on religious freedom in China's new
constitution of 1982, and that the world's largest printer of
bibles was China, where bibles are widely available to the

8. (SBU) Carter also recalled how the (Atlanta-based) Carter
Center had monitored four grass-roots elections in China, which
are allowed at the village level. Carter explained that, under
this electoral system, candidates who are not Communist Party
members are also allowed to run. Noting that he had met
(current President) Hu Jintao "several times," Carter stated
that he was disappointed that Hu had done little to expand the
freedom of the Chinese people. (Note: Carter told CG that his
conversation with Deng took place after he left the White House
(in January 1981). From the context, the Carter-Deng
conversations apparently took place in 1981 or in 1982, before
the current Chinese constitution's adoption in December of 1982.
Carter referred CG to the Carter Center's website for more
information. reports on
a 1997 Carter Center effort to monitor village-level elections
in Fujian and Hebei provinces, and notes that (in 1987) Deng had
stated that "full democratization would take 50 years in China."
End Note.)

Public Diplomacy Efforts Pay Off With Positive Media Coverage

--------------------------------------------- ----------------

9. (U) During the weeks leading up to the Carter visit, Post
intensified public diplomacy outreach efforts to increase
community awareness of the visit and to promote local media
coverage. As the visit coincided with the 30th anniversary of
the normalization of relations between the United States and
China, Consul General and other officers wove the announcement
of Carter's visit and discussion of his role in the
normalization of relations into approximately 12 anniversary
lectures at universities in key cities throughout the consular
district. Additionally, Consul General discussed the history of
US-China relations, and the impending visits of President Obama
and Former President Carter, during a series of press
roundtables in Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, and Kunming.

10. (U) The widespread media coverage of the FPOTUS visit was
highly positive and focused on the Habitat project as well as
the Carters' spirit of volunteerism. "Chengdu Daily"
(circulation 300,000) gave a detailed report of the building
project, stressing Carter's hope that the people of Sichuan
Province would benefit from the volunteers' assistance. Similar
stories were carried by Xinhua News, "China Daily," and
Sichuan's financial dailies. In addition to television and
newspaper coverage, several online sources carried vivid photos,
news stories, and commentary. commented on the fact
that President Carter spent time eating and working with
ordinary volunteers, thus setting a good example for China's
high-level leaders. Chat room discussions picked up on this

CHENGDU 00000270 003.2 OF 003

thread. Several comments praised Carter's 26 years of volunteer
work with Habitat for Humanity, and compared this type of
behavior with the typical behavior of high-level Chinese
leaders, commenting that the Chinese people have much to learn
from Carters' example of service.

The Civil Society Context: Reduced Space for NGOs

--------------------------------------------- ----

11. (U) Habitat began working in China in 2000, and previously
worked in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong provinces. Following
the devastating May 2008 earthquake, the organization set up
operations in Sichuan to assist in the housing reconstruction
process, arriving along with an influx of an estimated 200 other
domestic and international non-governmental organizations
(NGOs). As discussed ref A, NGOs have operated widely in the
quake zone since May 2008, often filling gaps in the official
response. However, after a period of notable freedom of action
in the early post-disaster months, they have faced an
increasingly "managed" operating environment, with relations
with local officials usually the key determinant of whether they
can continue their work or not. Larger organizations with savvy
government relations and a willingness to stay away from
sensitive issues - whether domestic or international -- have
been typically able to expand their post-quake work, while some
smaller NGOs that want to maintain more autonomy have found
themselves increasingly squeezed out.

© Scoop Media

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