5 concepts to know about human rights abuses in China

August 21, 2020

The ERLC, along with a broad coalition of human rights and religious freedom advocates, is calling for the U.S. to counter China morally because of the communist state’s rising persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians. As part of that effort, the ERLC is hosting a webinar today at 1 p.m. EDT on “China’s Rising Threat to Human Rights.”

The online event will include Ambassador Samuel D. Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department; Nury Turkel, USCIRF Commissioner; Rushan Abbas, Founder and Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs; Russell D. Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Travis Wussow, Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel of the ERLC.

We hope you will join us! In preparation for the webinar, here are five concepts you should know to better understand the human rights atrocities unfolding in China.

1. International human rights

Prior to the 1940s there were few international documents that recognized specific rights as applying to all people at all times in all nations. But after World War II, the atrocities committed by the Nazis led the international community to recognize a need for human rights to be established as an international legal status.

On April 25, 1945, representatives from 46 nations gathered in San Francisco to form the United Nations. They responded to the demand by mentioning human rights five times in the UN Charter. The charter also established a commission “for the promotion of human rights.” This newly created “Commission on Human Rights” spent three years drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The text of the UDHR outlines about four dozen rights, such as the right to life, liberty, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and to manifest, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

According to the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations, numerous regional human rights conventions, domestic human rights bills, and constitutional provisions, which together constitute a comprehensive legally binding system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

See also: Explainer: Google, China, and human rights

2. Religious persecution

When Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China as a communist state in 1949, he officially declared the country to be atheist. After Mao died in 1976 his successor, Deng Xiaoping, began to allow the practice of religion, though often with severe restrictions. For example, the communist state requires by law that Christians worship only in congregations registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. 

Over the past decade, the Chinese government has increased such restrictions by implementing a campaign to “sinicize” (i.e., make Chinese in character or form) religious belief. The result is that the independent practice of religion has been either further diminished or eradicated throughout the country.

According to religious freedom advocates, more than 5,000 Christians and 1,000 church leaders were arrested in 2018 because of their faith or religious practices (most of these arrests resulted in short-term detentions and did not lead to criminal charges). Authorities also closed down or demolished thousands of churches and religious sites. The Chinese government has been especially harsh on Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in the country.

See also: Increasing religious persecution in China | The state of religious liberty in China | Christians in China facing increasing persecution | 3 things you should know about religious freedom and the church in China 

3. Muslim minority internment camps

Internment camps are facilities in which large groups of people are imprisoned, usually held without any form of due process. Since April 2017, China has detained more than one million Muslims in what the Communist Party refers to as “educational training centers.” These religious minorities are being held to indoctrinate them and turn them into loyal, Chinese-speaking supporters of the party.

The Chinese deny the “centers” are internment camps, saying they are “like boarding schools where the students eat and live for free.” But Ambassador Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, says, “We need to call these camps what they are; they’re internment camps created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.”

Foreign experts estimate that about a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims are being held against their will in these camps.

See also: Explainer: What you should know about China’s internment camps | How the Chinese Communist Party is persecuting Uyghur Muslims

4. Xi Jinping’s governance

Xi Jinping was elected as the president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. In addition to this role as president, Xi also serves as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (putting him in control of the country’s political party) and chairman of the Central Military Commission (which makes him the commander-in-chief of China’s military forces). He also is head of so many other smaller decision-making bodies that he’s been called the “Chairman of Everything.”

After his first four years in office, the Communist Party voted unanimously to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” into the Chinese constitution, an honor previously reserved for Mao Zedong and his successor, Deng Xiaoping. This change enshrined Xi’s political philosophy into the country’s supreme law and made any challenge to him a direct threat to Communist Party rule. As the BBC has noted, schoolchildren, college students, and staff at state factories are required to study this political ideology.

Xi was due to step down in 2023, but he further consolidated power by having his party change the constitution to remove the limitation that no Chinese president shall serve more than two consecutive terms.

In 2016 the bipartisan U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China released a report outlining the human rights abuses of Xi. According to the report, “Xi has overseen a deterioration in human-rights and rule of law conditions in China marked by greater consolidation of his own power—leading some analysts to draw comparisons to Mao Zedong—through forced ideological conformity and the systematic persecution of human rights lawyers and defenders.”

5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a territory located on the south coast of China. The land consists of a peninsula and more than 200 small islands. Although Hong Kong is roughly the size of San Antonio, Texas (426 sq. mi.), it has four and a half times as many people (7 million), making it one of the most populous areas on Earth.

Hong Kong was a territory of China when part of it was seized by the British Empire during the First Opium War in 1842. In 1898 the Chinese government leased the rest of Hong Kong (known as the New Territories) to the British for a period of 99 years. Under British control, Hong Kong became a flourishing economic region. Today, it’s one of the world’s leading financial centers, behind only New York and London.

Before the lease expired and the territory returned to China on July 1, 1997, the British negotiated a “one country, two systems” agreement. The agreement provided Hong Kong with a significant degree of autonomy in domestic affairs for a period of 50 years. As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system, borders, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.

While many of these freedoms remain, the Chinese government has begun encroaching on the rights of people in the area. This has created tension within the territory that has historically distanced themselves from mainland China. Only 11% of the people in the territory identify as “Chinese” (most identify themselves as “Hong Kongers”), and almost 2/3 (71%) say they do not feel proud about being Chinese citizens.

Xi’s government, though, has attempted to bring Hong Kong under the same level of control and surveillance as the rest of China by implementing a security bill designed to crackdown on dissidents and any foreign influence. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in his report to Congress the U.S. State Department’s determination that “Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground.”  

See also: What Hong Kong reveals about the future of China | Explainer: American technology, China, and the fall of freedom in Hong Kong | Explainer: Chinese officials sanctioned for atrocities in Xinjiang

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24