Xi’s China celebrates 20-year anniversary of its brutal religious persecution
Toward the end of September 2018, around 1.1 million Chinese government workers shipped out to homes in China’s Xinjiang province. Invading living rooms, dining tables, and even intensely intimate prayer spaces, the government workers have become fixed features in the lives of millions of Chinese citizens. The families forced to host the workers are instructed to treat them as relatives and involve them in all family activities—even weddings and funerals.
But the workers are not there out of any semblance of state care or concern.
On the contrary. The Chinese government has deployed these workers into the private homes of millions of its citizens to monitor the lives of one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups: its nearly 11 million Uyghur Muslims, 80 percent of whom live in Xinjiang province.
The programme, called “Pair Up and Become Family,” is but one of many sweeping initiatives China has rolled out in an effort to eradicate Islam from the country. The government has been rounding up Uyghur Muslims and locking them up in concentration camps for over a year. Reports of the internment camps have only recently splashed onto the international news scene, prompting widespread dissent and denunciation from the international community and various human rights groups.
Unfortunately, religious discrimination and oppression in China is not limited to the Muslim community. In fact, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2019 report on international religious freedom released at the end of April, explicitly states the immense danger inherent in belonging to any group outside of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Because in China, there is no god but the CCP.
Xi Jinping—secretary of the CCP since 2012 and president of China since 2013—is the party’s leading figure and public face. Xi has promoted a personal dictatorship and a cult of his personality that is all-too-reminiscent of Chairman Mao’s legacy of mass murder and brutal suppression of dissenting thought and behaviour.
Under Xi, the crackdown on what little religious freedom remained in China has expanded even further. On 26 August 2017, the Religious Affairs Regulation was signed into law; it entered into force in February 2018 and ushered in an even more restrictive environment for China’s religious communities—one that the state is allowed to invoke with force.
The USCIRF report highlights the Chinese government’s systematic oppression of Uyghurs and other Muslims, Tibetans, house church Christians, members of Falun Gong, and the Church of the Almighty God. It also addresses religious freedom concerns in a number of other countries, including but not limited to: Burma, Central African Republic, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. China, however, remains at the forefront of the report, at this year finds the country enjoying a 20-year legacy as one of the world’s most atrocious persecutors of religious freedom.
Xi sees religion as a problem of national security. His solution is what Nationalist China has termed “sinicization:” the “submission of any religion to socialism and the CCP.” As a result, many religious groups and particularly Uyghur Muslims are subjected to constant surveillance. Their phones are seized and searched. The tips of their fingers are pricked for blood samples as part of “routine health examinations” that are in reality a means of collecting DNA. Their children are banned from attending mosque. And—in its most vile abuse of human rights—the Chinese government has taken the liberty of kidnapping anywhere from 800,000 to two million adults for placement in its concentration camps, shipping their children off to orphanages where they lose all contact with their moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. It is impossible for family members to get in touch with one another; the government’s sweeping surveillance apparatus would notify officials almost immediately, bringing the threat of punishment.
A handful of foreign governments have issued statements condemning the Chinese government for its heinous breach of human rights protections. But so far, China has not been forced to face any consequences. With the release of its USCIRF report, the United States has positioned itself as one of a few actors at the very least willing to publicly decry the actions of the Chinese state.
The European Union, however, remains frozen in place. It is almost as if the EU sees itself as a small, helpless child scared of the dark and the Chinese monster in its closet.
The EU has continued unabated in its strategic partnership with China. European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, met in Brussels on 10 April 2019 for the 21st EU-China Summit and committed to further strengthening the EU-China collaboration. In a joint statement issued one day after the summit, they reaffirmed that “all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated” and committed to conducting regular exchanges on human rights in the near future.
But all of these promises remain hollow. There is no hope for the millions of oppressed Chinese citizens in the absence of concrete, direct action from the EU against the Chinese government. The EU would do well to release a report on global religious freedom and persecution, similar to that published by the USCIRF. The EU must also swiftly roll out sanctions against those Chinese officials and agencies that have perpetrated and/or tolerated severe religious freedom violations.
The luxury of balking at made-up monsters in the closet has long passed by. Millions of people around the world—Chinese citizens in particular—have been forcibly confined by the darkness of their state’s choice to restrict the fundamental human freedom to believe as one’s conscience dictates.
It is time to turn on the light.