By / Aug 4

The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit is one of the many in-person events that was  welcomed back post-pandemic to Washington, D.C., for its annual meeting at the end of June. With close to 70% of the world’s population living in countries with religious restrictions, it is more important than ever to fortify our response to these troubling numbers. The IRF summit aims to gain political and grassroots support for religious freedom worldwide. Each year the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department releases a report on the status of religious freedom in the world. The conversations that happen at the summit often reflect the reports. 

During the meeting, coalitions were strengthened, new relationships were made, and powerful testimonies were shared. While we often read the facts surrounding religious persecution and feel a sense of compassion, to see the faces of those who have survived is uniquely moving. I had the privilege of attending the IRF conference and hearing directly from a few of these survivors. 

The story of Shi Minglei 

I have never faced persecution for my faith or had to choose between renouncing my faith or living. The government does not send agents to my home to stop me from reading the Bible. My bank account has not been seized because of my faith. But there are individuals in this world who experience this reality daily. Shi Minglei is one of those people. Minglei and her husband, Cheng Yuan, are from China. Yuan is a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and was arrested for his decry of human rights violations by the CCP. After his arrest, his wife and daughter were targeted by secret police officers sent by the government. They were tracked, interrogated, and intimidated by agents. The ERLC has joined coalitions in condemning the treatment of Uyghurs and other religious minorities by the CCP. From condemning the Chinese Government at the U.N. Human Rights Council to advocating for the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the ERLC has been active in trying to end religious persecution in China. 

The CCP was relentless in their efforts to keep Minglei quiet. An agent warned her, “anywhere you go, anyone you meet, anyone you call, you have to get my permission for all of them, or else we’ll change enforcement measures on you!” Essentially, if she spoke out on the brutal treatment she had received, then she would be arrested or even killed. The mental toll that Minglei and her daughter went through cannot be overstated. Every day they lived with the lurking fear that someone was watching them. Agents could barge into their door at any moment and drag them away. While the fear ravaged their life for months on end, they were able to find peace in the only One who can provide it when a member of Minglei’s church rallied around them and offered to pray with them (Phil. 4:6-13). It was at that moment that her heart finally found rest. 

“I cried out, and my heart, which had been ruled by the fear created by tyranny, was finally released. That night, I was no longer afraid. Every night, my little girl and I prayed and slept in peace. In the mornings, we took the bus to the subway together, and on the way we sang hymns together and praised God out loud. I began to learn how to live with my fears and how to walk through this trying time.”

Minglei was in a situation where everything seemed to be working against her. The institutions she was surrounded by oppressed her. Her beliefs were ridiculed. Life would have been much easier if she would have remained silent and quietly given up her resistance. Yet, thankfully that is not how the story ends. Minglei and her daughter were able to escape and are now safe within the United States. Hearing her speak in person with her daughter a few feet away in the audience was an experience that I will never forget. Minglei writes in an article about her experience that, “​​even though I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I do know who is in charge of tomorrow.”  May we also live with that same reminder in our own lives. 

Freedom of religion is not a worldwide standard. In fact, it is almost an exception. The United States has a unique platform in the world that can be used to promote freedom of religion.

The IRF conference is one of the many ways governments and civil society can come together to promote religious freedom so that everyone can worship without fear. And while conferences like these are necessary to build worldwide support, the fight for religious freedom does not stop with those in Washington. We all have a role to play. 

One of the most important ways to get involved is through prayer. Pray for God to open the heart of government leaders who are oppressing their own people. Pray for the individuals who are living in the reality of religious persecution and that God would grant them strength. Lastly, pray that God will give us a spirit of hospitality to welcome those escaping persecution. 

Another practical way to get involved is to further read on religious freedom. The ERLC has an entire section dedicated to resources on this issue. A few of my personal recommendations listed below. 

The work toward religious freedom for all remains a cornerstone of Baptist tradition. The door to sharing the gospel can often be opened when others are free to practice their own faith. Stories like Shi Minglei should remind us of how blessed we are to have the freedoms we do in the United States. While we know that earthly governments cannot stop the gospel, it is in the interest of human flourishing to protect that right so that individuals are free to live according to their deeply held beliefs.  The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right on which other basic rights often rise and fall. It is an essential ingredient in a functioning society. Because of that, the ERLC will continue to advocate for religious freedom for all people of all faiths around the world.

By / Feb 18

The gross human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party and their authoritarian rule has been in the news lately because of the Winter Olympics. China’s citizens, and specifically minorities like the Uyghur people, have lived under oppression and persecution for years. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian leads the weekly Axios China newsletter and covers China’s role in the world. Below, she answers questions about the history of China’s influence, how they seek to gain power, and how we can learn more about this country.

Jason Thacker: As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your path of researching and reporting on China?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: I first went to China in 2004 as part of a study abroad program and really loved my time there. I was in Xiamen, which is a city on the coast, a tropical part of southern China. It was just beautiful, and I really loved the Chinese friends that I made. I also thought the Chinese language was beautiful and fascinating, and the culture and history were interesting. It really changed the course of my life. I never really looked back. After I graduated from undergrad, I went back. I was in China from 2008 to 2012. I lived in Beijing for one year, and in Nanjing for one year. I went back to Xiamen for two years, and then I got a master’s in East Asian studies and started on the path that I’ve been on for the past eight years, which is as a journalist based in D.C., but focusing on China. 

JT: Can you help us to understand a bit of the recent history in China and how they have become a global superpower under president Xi Jinping?

Bethany: So, that started in the 1980s and then rather more quickly in the 1990s, with China’s reform and opening up economically, culturally, and diplomatically to the rest of the world. After China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, you saw enormously quick economic development, 10-12% GDP growth, for a while it held at 18% GDP growth, and certainly economic growth comes with a lot more power in a lot of ways. But what we’ve really seen Xi Jinping do is skillfully locate all the areas where China wasn’t really taking advantage of the power it could have — in ways that it can use its economic strength and translate that into geopolitical power, diplomatic power, other kinds of strategic power. Jinping has really focused on that with his Belt and Road Initiative. It seems that he is trying to create a China-centric world order for the 21st century through bringing in countries bilaterally in their relationship with China and giving them loans and infrastructure projects and deals. But, there’s a lot of strings attached to that, namely supporting China’s goals in multilateral institutions, voting for what they want and giving them backing whenever desired. That’s one aspect. 

The diplomatic push has been really huge, but also we’ve seen a different kind of economic power, a kind that people are calling “economic coercion,” and that’s how China has weaponized access to its markets. For political reasons, in some ways, you could say it’s somewhat analogous to U.S. sanctions. However, the way that China uses its markets in this way is usually to support its own narrow geopolitical interests. So, hot-button issues like the genocide in Xinjiang or policies in Tibet or the way that it has crushed the democracy movement in Hong Kong or people who get too close to Taiwan, you see the Chinese government denying access, usually in a very opaque kind of way for those kinds of actions and speech. 

The Chinese government has also deployed that kind of power for pretty straightforward defense reasons. So, for example, a number of years ago, the South Korean government deployed a U.S. missile defense system called “THAAD” on South Korean soil, and this is mainly as part of their self-defense strategy against North Korea, but it also is right next to China. The Chinese government really did not like this and did not want South Korea to deploy it. So, they basically implemented a bunch of de facto kinds of economic measures against South Korea, including stopping Chinese tourists from going there, a big source of revenue in South Korea, prevented K-pop bands from performing in China or even streaming on Chinese music websites. There was sort of a boycott of Lotteria, which is a South Korean restaurant chain on whose land the THAAD system was deployed. The idea here is that Lotteria or other South Korean companies in the future would lobby their own governments not to have U.S. missile facilities.

What’s really interesting is the way that China acted during the coronavirus. I have seen these ways that the Chinese Communist Party has politicized a lot of its economic ties for these narrow authoritarian political interests. I’ve watched them for years doing that more and more. With coronavirus, we saw the Chinese government deploy this exact kind of power for the first time on an issue that literally affects every person in the world, and that was the discussion of the origins of the coronavirus. So, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and almost immediately the Chinese government levied a bunch of tariffs on Australian imports into China and very dramatically affected their wine industry and a number of other industries there. That is the same kind of economic coercion.

JT: What are some of those industries that the Chinese are especially influential in? Obviously, technology is one of those, but what are some of the other industries that have global effects? 

Bethany: Well, one of the earliest examples of this is Hollywood. For example, in 1997, two major films were released that were sympathetic to the Tibetan people. One of them was Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt and one of them was Kundun, which was a Disney film about the life of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government, as a response, didn’t allow Disney’s Mulan to be shown in China. That was the punishment for Disney. Then, for the studio that had produced Seven Years in Tibet, all of their movies for years afterward were kept out of the Chinese market, even if they had nothing to do with China. And Hollywood really got that lesson. I don’t know of any other industry that was targeted so early, so dramatically, and so effectively, because 1997 was the last time that there was a major Hollywood production about Tibet, and there have been no big blockbuster films that present China in a negative light or across some kind of obvious red line. 

There’ve been numerous examples of self-censorship in Hollywood and that’s just gotten more obvious and more extreme, especially under Xi Jinping, and especially now, as the Chinese box office is the largest box office in the world. We’re seeing so many examples of that and even a proactive messaging that is pro-CCP.  For instance, we’re not going to get from Hollywood a movie like Hotel Rwanda for the Uyghurs. If that movie is made, it’s not going to be made by a major Hollywood studio because it wouldn’t pass CCP censors. 

Technology is a more current example. What’s happening now is not that China’s markets themselves are so lucrative, which they are, but the Chinese tech scene is actually very vibrant. Their STEM research and science and technology sector is really cutting edge, with the possibility of leading the world in artificial intelligence and quantum computing and some of these other emerging technologies. This is a whole other level of influence, and it’s an explicit policy by the Chinese government. This means that tech companies in the U.S. not only feel that they need to tap the market for revenue, but also that they need access. Maybe at some point they’re going to want to do partnerships or they’re going to need access to certain forms of technology to do what they’re doing. 

This is looming in our near future, and what we have seen over and over from the Chinese Communist Party is that any time they have that kind of leverage, they use it for political reasons. And it’s far beyond just censorship. I really want to move past that as the type of control and influence that we’re talking about. We’re talking about shaping behaviors, shaping global standards, shaping how these companies push their own government, what they push on their own governments, how to regulate them, and what they allow, and even shaping what’s considered acceptable for an American company to do or to be a part of. 

For example, the Chinese tech sector has become so influential they are trying to change government backing, trying to set standards by a U.N. standard-setting agency. The Chinese government is trying to set the global norms for issues that are in themselves harmless, but could give a big advantage to Chinese companies. So an interesting analogy here would be 3G. U.S. companies are the ones who set the standards for 3G, and that gave them a huge advantage in the 3G market around the world. So U.S. companies were like the largest telecommunications companies in the world, and it gave them an enormous amount of power which greatly contributed to American prosperity. The Chinese government and Chinese companies are trying to do that, for example, with 5G, with them being the ones that set these very technical standards that would set Huawei and ZTE and other companies up for decades of dominance, with lots of wealth flowing into the hands of Chinese elites. A difference is that the Chinese government would absolutely politicize that power and that excess in a way that the U.S. government never did.

JT: Can you give us a little context on China today about the state of surveillance?

Bethany: The Chinese government is building what you can call a modern 21st-century surveillance state. They implement real name registration, so it’s a lot harder to hide behind anonymous accounts. Local public security bureaus generally have a cyber section, so they monitor what people are saying online, in emails, and all kinds of web traffic in real time. They call in people to talk and arrest people based on what they say or do online, which, you know from a crime-fighting perspective is OK. But in China, when there’s a ton of political crimes, any kind of speech can potentially be criminal, or any kind of organizing action can be criminal. 

The assumption is that if you’re in China, anything that you’re saying or doing online is being monitored either by a human being or by some kind of algorithm that will send alerts to a real person. This is going to happen whether you’re chatting on WeChat, which is like WhatsApp, whether you’re talking on the phone, whether you’re sending emails, your bank transactions; basically anything can be monitored, and that’s enabled in part by increasingly sophisticated data analysis. Since there are not enough human beings to monitor all of that, there are also tons of surveillance cameras blanketing cities throughout China with facial recognition technology. And there is a growing ability to use data to analyze what those images are so that it doesn’t have to be monitored by people like security guards staring at TVs. There’s a sense now that it’s very difficult to hide anywhere, whether or not you should be able to hide or not. 

JT: You wrote a piece last fall at Axios about the pressure that China is exerting on corporate sponsors not to drop them and not to disassociate with the Winter Games, employing somewhat of a “loyalty test.” Can you speak a little bit more about this “loyalty test” that you wrote about last fall and how the Chinese Communist Party has influence over corporations around the world? 

Bethany: Let me first unpack the term privacy in America. In the West, we talk about privacy in a kind of lazy way. We conflate privacy vis-a-vis corporations and privacy in terms of the government. So, whether it’s Google or the U.S. government mining our data, we don’t really draw a distinction between them. It’s all just privacy issues. But, according to the Chinese government, they think about this differently. They have a dividing line there. The Chinese government has promised to improve consumer privacy, and they just passed the data privacy law. They’re trying to have a stronger legal environment around what Chinese companies can do, how they can get data, when they’re allowed to get data, what kinds of notifications they have to get to consumers to get their data, what they can do with that data, and they’re trying to create a stronger legal environment for that. That’s a real thing that’s happening that’s improving privacy. 

However, at the same time, they’re doing everything they can to completely erase all barriers between any data that exists and the Chinese government. They want as much data in real time as possible. So these are two very dramatically bifurcated paths on privacy regarding pressure that the Chinese government puts on corporate sponsors. For example, it was almost certainly the case that if one of the top-level corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics withdrew and said they were doing it because of human rights concerns, not only would they lose, but it’s very likely you would see the Chinese government take extensive retaliatory measures against them in the Chinese market. 

This happened to H&M last year when H&M said that they were no longer going to be sourcing their cotton from Xinjiang — the cotton industry in Xinjiang is very closely intertwined with Uyghur coerced labor. And when H&M said that, it resulted in a state-banned consumer boycott in China, and their H&M stores were removed from maps so people had a hard time getting there. 

JT: In your opinion, do you think these diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics or the rhetoric turn-around where some are calling these the “Genocide Olympics” is actually going to affect China negatively or exert any type of influence? 

Bethany: I think that every little bit helps, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here. For any history on the Olympics, and specifically Olympics that were boycotted, Beijing will be in there, and the reason that it was boycotted will be there forever. Because there has been this push toward diplomatic boycotts, many governments have had to consider whether or not they will participate. The simple act of considering means learning about what’s happening in Xinjiang. Governments have been forced to learn about what’s happening in Xinjiang and to make a decision that matters. It has greatly increased the prominence and the global discussion around what’s happening in Xinjiang, and that matters. 

Is it going to stop the genocide? No. But in the global efforts to push back against it, every little action builds up over time, and now we have a whole host of sanctions. Even just three years ago, just getting a sanction seemed impossible because the last time there was a human rights-based sanction on China was after Tiananmen, 30 years ago. Now, not only is it possible, but the EU created an entirely new human rights-sanction mechanism and used it on China. So it does matter, and I’m optimistic about the fact that there were diplomatic boycotts. 

JT: What are some resources that you might recommend for listeners if they want to learn more about the history of China or the progress that China has made? Or maybe some of the ways that China is interconnected in the global atmosphere? 

Bethany: Here are some resources I would recommend:

By / Feb 4

On Tuesday, the ERLC hosted a special online event called “Oppression & The Olympics: A Discussion of China’s Human Rights Atrocities Ahead of the Winter Games.” During their time together, three panelists discussed China’s many human rights violations and why the Beijing Olympics is an occasion to spotlight the need for accountability.

In light of the upcoming American coverage of the Olympics by NBC Universal, some have urged the public to not engage in watching the games because of the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing human rights violations, in particular against the Uyghur ethnic minority. This raises the question of boycotts and how Christians should think about them. 

Thinking about boycotts

The term boycott refers to a refusal to buy, use, or participate in something as a means of expressing disapproval. A boycott can be either an act of protest or an act of coercion. In an act of protest, we are intentionally making purchasing decisions for the purpose of registering our disagreement or displeasure — regardless of whether it affects the behavior of anyone else. In contrast, an act of coercion is when we are intentionally making purchasing decisions for the primary purpose of changing someone else’s behavior.

In the case of the Olympics, we are either protesting or attempting to coerce a particular entity: either NBC Universal, the Chinese government, or both. We do not have a moral obligation to either watch the Olympics or buy products from China. The loss of one additional TV viewer or an individual consumer will also not cause much direct harm if we engage in a protest of refusing to watch the games or buy Chinese goods. We can merely make the decision to engage in such a protest based on our individual conscience without a concern about creating an moral conundrum.

However, if our goal is coercion, we are going beyond mere protest by attempting to wield our power in a way that brings about justice. Even though this is a nonviolent use of power, we should apply the similar principles and standards that we would use for violent use of power — which, for many Christians, would be just war principles.

Two principles associated with the just war tradition that would seem to apply to this situation are reasonable chance of success and discrimination. How those principles are applied is open to disagreement, of course, but here’s how we could frame the consideration. We can ask:

  1. Are our actions likely to have the intended effect on NBC Universal and the Chinese government, and
  2. Does the good of engaging in the boycott outweigh the economic destruction on innocent civilians, such as Chinese workers or employees of NBC?

How much economic harm should be allowed by our boycott depends on how likely our boycott is to lead to justice. If the boycott is likely to be effective, then a greater level of harm may be justifiable. However, if the boycott is likely to be ineffective, then the threshold for economic damage to innocents should be considerably less.

We can also be guided in our thinking about boycotts by the principle of proximate justice. As Steven Garber once explained the concept,

“Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will only be in the new heaven and new earth that we find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and there we will see all of the conditions for human flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, and politically.”

Here’s an example of how we might balance these factors in regard to our decision about a boycott:

  1. We can refuse to watch the Olympics on NBC since ​​viewership increases their advertising revenues. We can also refuse to buy any products made by slaves — which might include Olympic souvenirs — since this is the best way for me to apply proximate justice.
  2. However, we may decide we will not refuse to buy products merely because they are made in China since an individual boycott is almost assuredly going to be ineffective, and the most likely outcome would be that the only people hurt would not be the Chinese government but the poorest of Chinese workers (some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ).
  3. We can use what power we have to take other steps that are most likely to affect the Chinese government and minimize the harm to innocent Chinese people. For example, we can use social media to raise awareness about Chinese atrocities and the treatment of the Uyghurs while the Olympics is ongoing. 

Whatever choice we make about the boycott, there are certain actions we can all take to promote justice. As the panelists noted during the ERLC event, we can contact our U.S. representatives and senators and encourage them to enact legislation that limits Chinese government power. We can also pray for world leaders to have courage to put an end to the Uyghur genocide and to rethink economic exchange with a communist government that disregards human rights. 

By / Feb 2

Where is Peng Shuai? Perhaps you have seen the social media posts asking this question. But, first, unless you are a hardcore tennis fan, you might need some clarity on about Peng Shuai. She is a Chinese professional tennis player with outstanding accomplishments in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She rose to world number 14 in singles (2011) and became world number 1 in doubles in 2014. Shuai became the first Chinese tennis player ever ranked world number 1 in doubles or singles and has won 25 titles on the WTA tour in singles and doubles.

What happened to Peng Shuai?

In a lengthy November post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, 35-year-old Shuai alleged she was raped by one of China’s senior political leaders, former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post almost immediately disappeared from Weibo, and then she suddenly disappeared from public view as well. Since that time, the Chinese government has censored any mention of Shuai or her accusation against Zhang Gaoli.

Concern about her well-being increased as friends and colleagues could not directly contact Shuai. The #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag took off on social media, and leaders in the tennis world began to voice concern. One of the loudest voices expressing concern is WTA chairman Steve Simon. A few weeks after Shuai’s disappearance, Simon received an email, which was also shared on American social media by Chinese-affiliated outlets, purportedly from Shuai, that said: “everything is fine.” She just did not want to be “bothered” right now. 

The email was almost universally mocked as fabricated or orchestrated by the Chinese government. Simon stated that the email “only increased his concerns.” A short time later, leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) participated in a video call with Shuai and stated she appeared safe and well. Many were outraged by the IOC’s willingness to participate in a video call that was little more than propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government by IOC officials wanting to avoid a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. After pressure, the IOC now says it cannot provide any assurances about Shuai’s well-being. 

Since that time, Chinese state-affiliated media outlets have shown pictures of Shuai out eating dinner and as a celebrity at a couple of sporting events. She recently told a Chinese state-friendly Singaporean newspaper that she had been misunderstood, she had not been sexually assaulted, and she is free to move around as she wished. 

Of course, none of these videos, pictures, or statements offer any proof that Shuai can move and speak without coercion or censorship. China’s authoritarian government has a long history of disappearing people, and threatening them and their families, until they coerce a retraction of any unfavorable comments toward the Communist Party leadership.

The shame of looking away

Sadly, it seems the financial benefit of looking the other way at China’s human rights atrocities has proven too strong a temptation for many businesses, including sports leagues and entertainment companies. For example, the Australian Open tennis tournament, run by Tennis Australia, at one time decided to turn away all spectators wearing any clothing that asks, “Where is Peng Shuai?” Their actions were an apparent capitulation to the Chinese regime and the Chinese investors in the tournament. Thankfully, on Jan. 25, after public pressure, Tennis Australia reversed its policy.

Recently, Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist and part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, said out loud what is a reality for too many in positions of power and influence. He said in an interview, when the genocide of the Uyghurs in China was mentioned, “Let’s be honest, nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs . . . .  I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.”

The danger in the Shuai situation is that the rest of the world just moves on and forgets about her condition over time. However, Simon has been one heroic figure who chosen to defend human rights over financial interests in this situation. He helped move a portion of the WTA season into China to take advantage of a lucrative emerging Chinese market. In 2018, the WTA signed a 10-year deal to move the WTA Finals to Shenzhen, China, with a guaranteed 14 million dollars in prize money. 

Nevertheless, Simon has put the well-being of Shuai over financial interests from the beginning of this saga. Simon said, “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source,” and, “Her allegation must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.” He followed his words with actions by suspending all WTA events in China. The result of the WTA actions could be an estimated 1 billion dollar loss of revenue. 

Simon is unfazed, asserting, “The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players.” However, he also urges, “As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.” While Simon’s courage and clarity in facing down China’s authoritarian regime has been heartening, the fact that so few have joined him is disheartening. 

A Christian’s responsibility

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our voices should be the loudest on behalf of those persecuted and marginalized. We are to care about the lives of God’s image-bearers from conception until natural death. The writer of Proverbs commands, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). 

Toward the end of the post where she made allegations of ongoing sexual abuse, Shuai asked a question that many persecuted, victimized, and dehumanized people have asked, “I thought, am I still a human?” May followers of Christ answer her question with a resounding, yes, by the way we speak up for her life and liberty. Tennis is a game; human rights are not. 

It has been right to ask, “Where is Peng Shuai?” But we must also ask, “Where are we?” Where are we when the opportunity comes to speak and act on behalf of the persecuted, suffering, and vulnerable? Let us be those who hear and heed the words of the Lord Almighty: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zech. 7:9).

By / Mar 26

This week, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada announced multilateral sanctions against Chinese government officials for their manifold human rights violations against Uyghur muslims. The sanctions were imposed against two Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders uniquely responsible for these atrocities: Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program.

“Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo are being designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818 in connection with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) appalling abuses in Xinjiang,” read the announcement of sanctions from the U.S. Department of State. The statement continued, “Wang is being designated for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the XPCC. Chen is being designated for being a foreign person who is a leader or an official of the XPSB, which has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse related to Chen’s tenure.”

This is a continuation of United States’ policy recognizing the atrocities against Uyghur muslims as a genocide. However, it is of special interest that this is the first time since the Tiananmen Square massacre the U.K. has imposed sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP is waging a systematic campaign of persecution against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has detained over a million Uyghur muslims in internment camps, subjected them to forced labor. Even now, the CCP continues to forcibly separate families and subject women to forced sterilization.

Sanctions are a tool governments can use to respond to foreign policy challenges. Many governments and multilateral bodies use economic sanctions to attempt to alter the behavior of another nation. 

The sanctions from the U.S. were applied under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program, which authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and block sanctions against any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

The E.U., the U.K., and Canada all have their own version of Global Magnitsky sanctions. These sanctions not only signal an international commitment to stand up for human rights, but also cause material harm and disincentive for China’s current actions. 

Additionally, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand released a joint statement condemning China’s horrific acts of violence and showing solidarity with the international community in punishing those responsible. This partnership of countries is called the “Five Eyes,” and they serve together as an intelligence alliance. The joint statement reads, in part: “The evidence, including from the Chinese Government’s own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming. China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”

The new sanctions and statements from Western government leaders are noteworthy steps in the right direction as they place needed pressure on the Chinese government for their persecution of Uyghurs. 

The U.S. should continue prioritizing religious freedom abroad. The ERLC will continue to advance human rights rooted in the image of God and religious freedom for persecuted people in China, and encourage our government officials to hold China accountable to recognize human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

To learn more see these ERLC resources

By / Feb 11

Jeff, Chelsea, and Travis discuss three big international stories for Christians to consider. They cover an update on the Chinese Uyghur genocide, how Christians are often left out of Middle East peace accords, and what we can learn about the fragility of democracy from the coup in Myanmar. 

This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Being the Bad Guy by Stephen McAlpine.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Feb 9

“Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.” 

Tursunay Ziawudun, a Uyghur woman, spent nine months in one of China’s internment camps in Xinjiang. She was recently interviewed for a BBC article detailing the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that Uyghur women face in the camps. 

In the article, Uyghur women who have fled China describe the brutal rape and torture they experienced when imprisoned. (Warning: The article describes vivid physical and sexual violence.) Sexual violence is dehumanizing in every way possible. God created sex to be a unifying and pleasurable act, enjoyed between a husband and a wife. Yet, in a world wrecked by sin, sex is often used as a way for evil people to wield power over the vulnerable. By nature, women are typically more physically vulnerable than men, and nefarious men will use sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual torment to control women and exert power.

U.S. Secretary of State issues official determination of genocide

On January 19, on his last day in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is “committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.” According to Axios, the U.S. has become the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party’s unconscionable human rights abuses in its far northwest. During his first full day at the Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a similar view of the atrocities, “my judgment remains that genocide was committed against the Uighurs.”

Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to persecute Uyghur women

Former Secretary Pompeo stated that one of the key facts in his determination was the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to severely oppress Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are even sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. The CCP’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs from China by maliciously manipulating who can and can’t bear children, and how many children a family can legally conceive. 

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in a new report delineates how the CCP has been systematically targeting Uyghur women in a draconian birth-control campaign. The report research reveals that birth-control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps, and evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document states that such violations were the most common reason for internment. According to Zenz’s report, “in 2014, 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs [intrauterine birth-control devices] in China were fitted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that share rose to 80 percent, far above Xinjiang’s 1.8 percent share of China’s population. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang placed 7.8 times more new IUDs per capita than the national average.”

This, in itself, is nothing new. The CCP has waged a long and dreadful war against women, more specifically against baby girls. Through the coercion of the one- and two-child policies, it created a gender imbalance as stark as 120 boys for every 100 girls. Families in China often had to seek the approval of local family-planning officials just to have a child, even if they hadn’t already reached the one-child cutoff. To meet quotas and restrict population growth, women were subject to forced abortions, and men and women to forced sterilizations.

A genocide determination is a critical step in countering China morally, and the United States was correct in making this assessment. However, countering the CCP’s gross violations of human rights abuses must be a global effort, and other countries should stand up too for the persecuted and the oppressed.

What should Christians do to address this persecution of Uyghur women?

As Christians, we are commanded to care deeply about persecution and violence against the vulnerable. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish. Christians should educate themselves and then speak clearly and boldly about the abuses that are happening to women and girls around the world. We should advocate for the vulnerable, abused, and voiceless in every nation. Few of us will ever endure what Uyghur women experience, but we ought to use our freedom and our voices to call for protection of persecuted people abroad.

By / Aug 17

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been persecuting Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group, in a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare. 

Surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party

For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, there is no such thing as a private life. The Chinese government has built a pervasive surveillance apparatus that not only records the movements of Uyghurs, but also tracks normal, routine actions. Something as innocent as entering one’s house through the back door, not socializing with neighbors, using WhatsApp, or changing phone numbers could trigger suspicion from China’s highly developed artificial intelligence algorithms

These algorithms intrude into the most sensitive and personal facets of the lives of Uyghurs, tracking their phones, cars, reproductive choices, and political views. The CCP often justifies its detention of Uyghurs on the grounds that they are engaged in extremist or terrorist activity, but the scope of China’s high-tech surveillance far outstrips the problem, resulting in arbitrary intimidation and arrests.

Reeducation camps for Uyghur people

The surveillance networks throughout Xinjiang flag “suspicious” Uyghurs for CCP authorities. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to forcibly procreate with the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Forced labor by the Chinese Communist Party

The CCP’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims does not stop at the reeducation. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploits this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in this industry. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. 

Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. A March 2020 report entitled “Uyghurs for Sale” looks at the supply chains of over 80 international brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors and documents how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those brands.

Forced sterilization of Uyghur women

China has a long history of imposing restrictive family planning on its citizens, and for years strictly enforced the infamous “one-child policy.” The restrictive birth policy has created a stark gender imbalance, and Chinese men today don’t have enough women to marry, resulting in the trafficking of brides and a larger sex trafficking industry. At the end of 2015, the Chinese government loosened its policies, allowing couples to legally conceive two children, and have encouraged Han Chinese to do so.

But while China has relaxed its family planning policy toward Han Chinese, the CCP has severely oppressed Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. 

One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear babies, and how many children a family can legally conceive.

How has the U.S. government responded?

In July 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that the United States government would apply “Global Magnitsky Sanctions” to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for their roles in human rights abuses and religious freedom violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and other restrictions on any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

In addition to administrative action, Congress has passed several important pieces of legislation to counter China morally. Recently, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law. The legislation imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and requires various reports on the topic.

Congress has likewise introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This important bill would prohibit goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjian from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly employs or utilizes the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

What can you do to help?

Speak up

Each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices. Below are some educational resources to continue educating yourself and share with others.

Pray 

We ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

  • Pray for the leaders of China, that they will end their oppression and persecution of their citizens, especially Christians, Uyghurs, and other ethnic and religious minorities. 
  • Pray for Christians in China, that they will be bold in proclaiming the good news of the gospel, and that they will stand up for those who are being persecuted.
  • Pray for world leaders, that they will have the courage and wisdom to counter China morally and hold the CCP accountable for their gross violations of human rights.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity and human rights of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse are well documented, including systematically monitoring and destroying Christian churches.