For years China has been drawing criticism for its persecution of religious minorities. However, over the past few months reports of truly horrific developments have captivated the global media, most notably the detainment of Muslims in its westernmost province of Xinjiang. The residents of this province also live under an unprecedented level of surveillance.
More recently, the Chinese government has reinvigorated its assault on Christians, as Christianity has been experiencing a growth spurt that has alarmed the Communist party (CCP). The situation in China is only getting worse as the CCP shows no sign of stopping.
Religious liberty is something that must be protected and promoted domestically as well as internationally. Toleration, free exercise, and self-determination are values that we should defend here in the United States and push for on the world stage, especially when dealing with actors like China.
The most concerning headline at the moment is the Chinese suppression of Muslims in Xinjiang or East Turkestan, in which an estimated 1 million individuals are locked away in concentration camps. Alongside the Uyghurs, the region is also home to a variety of other Central Asian groups such as the Tatars and the Uzbeks. In fact, the region was formerly known as the Islamic Uyghur Kingdom of East Turkestan until it was annexed by the Chinese Qing Dynasty in the 19th century.
The region has been under heavy military and police presence since the installment of the current Communist regime in 1949. However, the latest conflict today is the establishment of “political reeducation centers” where detainees are imprisoned and tortured.
The bipartisan US Congressional-Executive Commission stated in April of 2018 that this is the “largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”. Chinese officials, from ambassadors to college professors that are conveniently exchanged to universities around the world, go to great lengths to cover up this atrocity.
When a United Nations panel confronted a Chinese official about this issue, “he claimed they’re just vocational schools for criminals”.shamelessly contrary to the fact that China has even confirmed it has arrest quotas for Muslims.
A report by The Atlantic states that “police officials said they were being ordered to send 40 percent of the local population to the camps”. Some of the offenses that could lead to detention are as benign as growing a beard or speaking the Uyghur language. At these camps, detainees are routinely tortured and forced to eat pork as well as drink alcohol in order to become “more Chinese”. The Chinese government also been closing mosques and publicly executing Uyghurs. Furthermore, the entire region has been subject to some of the most stringent levels of surveillance.
According to The Telegraph: “Spending on China’s domestic security has tripled over the last decade, hitting 1.24 trillion yuan (£137 billion) last year. In Xinjiang alone, security-related construction more than doubled in 2017”. Xinjiang has been a testing ground for the government’s latest surveillance technology, including recognition software that can detect a person’s silhouette and walking style.
In order to purchase items such as kitchen knives, residents are required to have the items ingrained with a QR code that details the “customer’s ID card number, photo, ethnicity and address,” according to an article by Fast Company. The article also states that in “2009 authorities blocked the region’s internet service, text messaging, and international phone calls for a span of 10 months”.
International pressure to cease this activity has thankfully been steadily growing. According to an article by the South China Morning Post, Western diplomats have been invited to observe the region for the first time in recent years. However, it is likely that China will control the entire visit, such as when previous diplomats from neighboring Asian countries were treated to a spectacle of Uyghurs “happily” dancing. Still, this demonstrates that mounting international pressure has been forcing China to react.
The atrocities China has imposed on its Muslim citizens in Xinjiang shows a stark model of what could be in store for Christians. Across Asia, Christianity has been targeted at an increasing rate, with a recently renewed effort specifically by China.
According to The Guardian, “the Chinese government has tightened its control on religious worship, shutting down hundreds of unofficial churches, detaining pastors and worshippers, removing crosses from buildings, banning the online sale of bibles and increasing the surveillance of congregations”. This has all been as recent as last year with the latest crackdowns being the banning of Christmas just last December.
Much like how an arrest quota system has been implemented for Muslims in Xinjiang, the same system is being used against Christians. A report by the religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter uncovers that some police departments use a point system in which the “assessment is based on a 100-point evaluation system with specific scores assigned for each arrested believer depending on his or her faith”.
Members of the Chinese Christian movement known as “The Church of Almighty God” are allocated the highest scores for arrest out of any group regardless of religion or cause. According to another article by Bitter Winter, “The Church of Almighty God is the most persecuted religious group in China today”.
Aside from this particular group, multiple churches have been closed and demolished without warning. According to an article by China Aid, just last January “More than 100 SWAT agents stormed an end-of-year meal hosted held by Christians in a hotel in Nanyang, Henan province”.
This recent wave of Christian persecution in China is yet another addition to its horrendous treatment of religious minorities and humanity in general. The atheist CCP is genuinely concerned about the rising number of Christians, which some estimate China will contain the most in the world by 2030. The ongoing persecution of religious minorities in China, from Christians to Muslims, only shows the necessity to double down the defense of freedom of expression and faith.
The very first line of the United States of Bill of Rights reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. This line is composed of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Together they prevent the United States government from endorsing a state religion or targeting members of a religious community.
The founders codified these protections because they knew that religious persecution is one of the chronic tragedies of human history. Furthermore, there has been no greater tool to carry out such atrocities than with the power of the state. That is why we must continue to stand up for religious liberty and stand against bigotry of all forms.
We must assert that religion has no place in dictating our laws nor does the state get to suppress religious practices it doesn’t like. Our geopolitical rival, China, has shown just what can happen when we do not defend religious liberty and take a proactive stance against intolerance. On college campuses, in our communities, in the halls of Congress, as well as on the international stage, religious bigotry must be defeated and liberty for all must prevail.