Sterile Policy

THE Chinese term hau pengyu means ``old friend,'' but it goes well beyond a reference to acquaintanceship and connotes a special, lasting bond. It is brought to mind by President Bush's meeting in Beijing with the leadership of the People's Republic of China. The President renewed old friendships, but there is one issue that has strained the relationship lately. During the last four years of the Reagan administration, the United States government has repeatedly accused the Chinese government of using coerced abortion and involuntary sterilizations in its national family planning program.

The charges led directly to the Reagan administration's declaring the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ineligible for US funding because it contributes $10 million annually to China's $1 billion family planning program (which the administration somehow construed as sufficient evidence that the UN agency ``participates in the management'' of the Chinese program).

By using the charges against China to cut off funds to the largest and most effective multilateral organization providing family planning services to developing countries, the US government did a great disservice to countries whose demand for population assistance exceeds the aid currently available for this purpose.

President Bush can bring this fiasco, in which the US has turned its back on a UN agency it was instrumental in establishing, to an abrupt and overdue conclusion by accepting China's repeated assurances that it alone manages its programs.

Failure to address the problem now will, in all likelihood, ensure a diplomatic confrontation when the 48-nation UN Population Fund governing council meets in June. At that meeting a $57 million contraceptive technology assistance program for China will be proposed and debated.

The US is one of the 48 nations represented on the council, which is the proper forum for criticizing a UN agency's actions and raising questions of human rights violations in programs the UN funds. Interestingly enough, the US delegate to the council voted for the family planning grant to China from which the US has withdrawn its assistance.

The Bush administration should resume contributions to UNFPA with the stipulation that American dollars won't be spent in any family planning program that includes coercion or other violations of human rights.

Furthermore, the President, who has the responsibility for making this determination, can declare that a 1 percent contribution to a program does not constitute participation in its management. Then the US will be able to resume its longstanding partnership with industrialized nations that are coming to grips with the challenge of rapid global population growth through international channels.

In that way, family planning demands from more than 120 developing countries can be more adequately met and the UNFPA, with US assistance, can intensify efforts to stabilize world population.

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