UN's `Mr. Population' bucks new US policy on aid to China

At memorable, emotional moments, veteran Philippine politician and UN diplomat Raphael Salas likes to jot down Japanese-style haikus, or 17-syllable poems. For instance, when he left Manila after breaking with President Ferdinand Marcos and thus ending his own term as prime minister, he wrote: Above the rain clouds The wing catches the sunset On the rice-fields below.

In Japanese, a haiku has five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. Written in English (as Mr. Salas writes them) an extra syllable is permitted, as in the last line above.

``The haiku,'' he says, ``expresses depth of emotion, whereas the senryu [a similar form] expresses facts observed.''

So far, Salas has not written a haiku about the Reagan administration (although a book of 56 of his own haiku and senryu has just appeared). But if he does, it will certainly stem from a ``depth of emotion.''

For the last 16 years the smiling but shrewd Filipino has been ``Mr. Population'' -- executive director of the UN agency that handles population issues. He is credited with bringing to global attention the runaway rate of population growth across the third world, and the need for third-world women to have the same choice as Westerners on how many children to have.

Organizer of the first UN World Population Conference in Bucharest, Romania, in 1974, and the second in Mexico City last year, he has seen his fund's annual budget grow from $2.5 million to $150 million. Membership is now 149 states and territories.

Suspicious about population control 10 years ago, most third-world governments now recognize the urgent need to slow down population growth rates.

Yet, at a time when Salas might have been rejoicing over success, he faces his biggest UN challenge ever. The United States, the superpower that helped launch his agency in the first place, is opposed to population measures in China, a country that contains 21 percent of the world's 4.8 billion people.

As a result of US congressional and administration moves, his UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) stands to lose its entire annual US contribution of $38 million -- one quarter of its annual budget -- in the 1986 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

``And this is happening,'' says Salas animatedly in his New York office, ``at a time when the world's population is growing at the rate of 171 human beings every single minute.''

The money is at risk because a powerful right-wing anti-abortion coalition in Washington has succeeded in changing US policy toward China.

On Sept. 25, the US Agency for International Development (AID) in Washington eliminated $10 million of the US contribution to UNFPA for the 1985 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 -- on the grounds that the UNFPA was providing $10 million a year to China.

Abortion is legal in China, and US right-wing activists insist that Chinese women are coerced into abortions and sterilization as part of Peking's drive to limit the growth rate of its 1 billion people.

The AID action directly affects the wider issue of whether any US dollars at all will go to the UNFPA next year.

It was based on legislation heavily influenced by Rep. Jack F. Kemp (R) of New York, ordering the withholding if UNFPA was found ``to support or participate in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.''

According to AID and State Department lawyers, US contributions to UNFPA as a whole next year can be made only if China punishes abuses and ``prevents coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization'' or if UNFPA ``radically changes'' its assistance to China by limiting it, for instance, to providing contraceptives alone.

UN sources say that China regards its policies as its own business and that the UNFPA governing board of 48 nations won't take kindly to orders from the US Congress.

On the first point, an aide to Representative Kemp told this newspaper that the congressman would require ``independently verifiable'' proof that China was prosecuting those who coerce abortion or sterilization ``or who commit female infanticide.''

So the battle is joined.

The issue is about to surface again as the Population Institute, an active, pro-family planning lobby supported by the UNFPA, leads a ``study group'' including American, British, Japanese, and other correspondents to China Nov. 1 to 15.

The tour is, in part, an effort to influence Congress and the administration in Washington that ending US support of UNFPA would be a tragedy for the 130 nations who, the UN says, now receive UNFPA help to promote voluntary family planning methods and information.

The AID statement of Sept. 25 said evidence indicated that the UNFPA participated in ``the management of'' China's family planning program and that China's one-child-one-family policy had ``resulted in'' coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.

``That's just not so,'' said Salas in a Monitor interview. ``In April 1984 and March 1985 AID itself investigated our activities in China and approved them.

``The US, as a member of UNFPA's 48-state governing council, voted for UNFPA programs in China in 1980 and 1984. The UNFPA does not, I repeat not, provide funds for abortion or for abortion-related equipment, services, or supplies as a method of family planning.

``Our policy is that decisions on family planning should be voluntary, without coercion.''

According to Salas, UN funds to China and other countries support data collection (census taking), research, training, information, education, and other related fields.

Chinese President Li Xiannian has called reports of infanticide and forced abortion in China ``a total fabrication and distortion.'' Before the Sept. 25 AID decision, UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar and Chinese officials asked Secretary of State George Shultz to continue US support of UNFPA.

``How can anyone say we run China's program when we provide $1 million a year, a mere 1 percent of the $1 billion China itself spends on population issues every year?'' Salas asked.

``Why,'' queries another United Nations man, ``should the 130 countries UNFPA helps all suffer from a heavy budget cut caused by some in the US disliking alleged practices in China? The US is sending the wrong signals on population.

``China says it disapproves of any local coercion. What gives the US the right to dictate morals to China when abortion is legal in the US as well?''

Reagan Administration officials replied bluntly to this newspaper's questions:

``Coercion is the fact in China. Everyone knows it.

``We support voluntary family planning. We're reprogramming the $10 million to other groups who share our views opposing abortion.

``Yes, it looks as though no US funds will go to UNFPA next year -- unless Salas can find an answer. He's an adroit man, a clever man, and there are four or five ways he can do it.'' Officials refused to elaborate.

Washington sources added that the UNFPA has been on notice since last spring that it would ``probably'' lose the $10 million just eliminated and that it has until Sept. 30 next year (the end of US fiscal 1986) to find ``other ways'' to meet US conditions.

UNFPA is a ``reasonably good'' agency but ``should have been more cautious'' about helping China, one source said.

One likely UNFPA move now is to ask other major donors to make up the $10 million and any money the US withholds next year.

It's enough to make anyone try his hand at a haiku.

Another such poem in the new Salas collection, written after visiting the Maldive Islands west of Sri Lanka: A lone prisoner On an atoll, watching fish Swim freely around.

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