In Hong Kong, top US religious freedom official says Chinese gov't is 'at war with faith'

U.S. State Department Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback speaks during a press event at the State Department May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC.
U.S. State Department Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback speaks during a press event at the State Department May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. | Photo: Getty Images/Alex Wong

The Trump administration’s top religious freedom official, Sam Brownback, issued pointed words about the Chinese government’s religious freedom abuses against Christians, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists during his trip there over the weekend.

The U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom declared during a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong last Friday that it seems that the Chinese government “is at war with faith.”

“It’s a war they will not win,” Brownback declared, according to reports. “The Chinese Communist Party must hear the cry of its people for religious freedom.”

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Brownback’s speech comes as religious freedom experts have voiced serious concern about the deteriorating state of religious freedom in China.

Christians continue to be arrested for worshiping according to their faith as the communist government is trying to exert its control over churches. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims from the Xinjiang Region in Northwest China are languishing in detention camps. Also, the Chinese government continues to try and control Tibetan Buddhism.

In his speech, the former Kansas governor and U.S. senator declared that China needs to respect the “sacred right” of people to worship.

Brownback criticized China for jailing about 1 million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps for arbitrary reasons.

According to Radio Free Asia, Brownback argued that China’s concentration camps were “created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity” of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, who hold “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas.

Such detainments are part of Beijing’s wider “war with faith,” he said.

Although a Chinese official has claimed that the “re-education” camps are used to protect the nation from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uighurs, media outlets have reported that inmates in those camps are held against their wills and are subject to political indoctrination. Inmates also face abusive treatment while enduring unhealthy conditions.

“China justifies its use of internment camps and other repressive practices by claiming that it is rooting out terrorism preemptively,” Brownback was quoted as saying.

“But China is not solving a terrorist problem by forcibly moving women, children, the elderly, and the highly educated intelligentsia into mass detention centers and internment camps.”

Brownback accused China of “creating” a “terrorist problem.”

“The magnitude of these detentions is completely out of proportion to any real threat China faces from extremism, even according to China’s own official media and police reports,” he stressed.

The Chinese government is simply trying to make sure the religious minority groups “are brutally and forcefully controlled,” he contended.

“Somehow, men and women of faith are viewed as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “It is clear that China’s misguided and cruel policies in Xinjiang are creating resentment, hatred, division, poverty, and anger.”

The Chinese foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong responded to Brownback’s remarks by saying that they “slandered” China’s religious policies, according to the Associated Press. The office claimed to have registered its displeasure with Brownback’s remarks with the U.S. Consulate in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

The foreign ministry office claimed that China’s constitution and laws guarantee religious freedom. The office called on China’s critics to stop “using religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Although China claims to protect the religious freedom of its citizens, it recently arrested just over 40 Christians worshiping in homes after the closure of their Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church. Their arrests came after over 160 more arrests of church members were made last year.

China’s hostility toward non-state-sponsored religion has led to the demolition of many churches and the tearing down of thousands of crosses.

Even for state-sponsored religion, China Aid founder Bob Fu warned Congress last year that the Chinese government is trying to rewrite the Bible as part of its goal to “sinicize Christianity” and make Christianity more compatible with socialism.

“Religious freedom in China has really reached to the worst level that has not been seen since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution by Chairman Mao [Zedong] in the 1960s," Fu told members of the House Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations last September.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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