By / Dec 21

When most of us in the West think about technology, our minds often revert to our smartphones, social media, and computer technology. Many of the debates surrounding these technologies tend to focus on how these tools are altering our behaviors, reformulating how we think about the very nature of truth, or even how they are aiding a deep polarization in the throes of secularization. While there is growing consensus across partisan lines about the dangers of Big Tech, there is little agreement on the nature of the problem or what to do about it. But for all of the partisan rancor and tribalization we see today, there is thankfully one issue that is uniting various political factions today — the widespread abuse of these tools by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), specifically in their relentless pursuit of suppressing the basic human rights of millions Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

For many, these atrocities are just becoming more well known and mainstream news — especially with the recent passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act by the United States Congress, as well as the adoption of the unanimously passed resolution decrying these abuses as genocide by the Southern Baptist Convention this past June. While it may seem new, these abuses have been going on for years — often off the world’s radar — and have been fueled by a sophisticated network of surveillance and repressive technological controls designed to facilitate this ongoing genocide against the Uyghur population. 

As Christians we stand up against the abuses of power based on our foundational understanding of human dignity rooted in the imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-28) and the Christian ethic of neighbor love (Matt. 22:37-39). Right now, the church has the opportunity to speak up and advocate for the vulnerable and abused among us even if they live across the world under the heavy hand of a repressive regime like the CCP.

Tools of oppression against Uyghur Muslims

The reality of what is taking place among Uyghur Muslims in China is more gruesome and egregious than most have realized. This was made clear from video footage of Uyghur detainment that exposes rampant human rights violations of the worst kind. As my ERLC colleague Chelsea Patterson Sobolik has written:

Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost territory. Uyghurs are subjected to totalitarian tactics that include pervasive surveillance, forced detainment and placement into internment camps for “political reeducation,” forced labor, forced birth control, sterilization or abortion, rape, physical and psychological torture and forced organ harvesting.

These totalitarian tactics are waged against this people group based on their religious beliefs.They are subjected to propaganda-style reeducation that often includes renouncing deeply held beliefs and swearing ultimate allegiance to the Chinese state. But how exactly has the CCP been able to amass such power and control over these people without widespread knowledge and countermeasures?

The ability of this regime to mobilize its efforts to surveil and oppress Uyghurs has grown in large part due the massive advances of technology, namely widespread use of facial recognition technology, data surveillance, and the centralization of all communication technologies including the internet and social media. As I have previously written on the rise of digital authoritarianism, the CCP maintains almost complete access to personal and institutional data collected by Chinese technology companies or those who seek to access China’s lucrative markets. The Chinese government has also proudly and publicly promoted its use of facial recognition tools and social controls for the watching world. And these same tools are being marketed and used to profile, surveil, and round up Uyghurs all across the nation.

As Elizabeth C. Economy writes, the CCP has also built a robust and nearly impenetrable hold over public access to information. With “Chinanet,” the CCP has essentially created a walled garden, where any information that could challenge the heavy hand of the regime’s control is filtered out completely and inaccessible by Chinese citizens. For example, the ability to search for any type of pro-democracy media, or even information about the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, has been stripped from the internet in China. The goal is to control the information flow and only expose citizens to highly-scripted propaganda that strengthens the CCP’s power and influence over its citizenry.

Economy further describes in her book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, how the Chinese leadership has “directed significant time and energy in investing in technological upgrades to increase the state’s already potent capacity to monitor and prevent undesirable content from entering and circulating through the country.” They are effectively prevented from shifting the power imbalance or seeking to hold their leaders accountable for their denial of basic human rights, such as religious freedom.1A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.

A Christian response to the CCP’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims

In light of these atrocities and blatant violations of basic human rights, what is the church to do? One of the main ways the church can engage on these important issues is by refusing to be silent and letting our elected officials know that the United States and other countries must not allow these violations of dignity and basic human rights to go unchallenged. From the outset of these events, the ERLC has been raising awareness and advocating against these egregious human rights violations and blatant religious freedom abuses. As early as 2019 when reports began to highlight the inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims, our team has relentlessly pushed for the United States and other nations around the world to counter China morally alongside efforts to counter them economically.

As mentioned above, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act last week, which now is due for President Biden to sign into law. This law will prevent goods being produced by forced labor from reaching our shores and highlight these human rights violations. This not only publicly signals our commitment to ending the atrocities, but also will put real economic pressure on China to change its practices. This is the first among many needed steps to condemn the CCP’s tyrannical grip over this people group. The CCP must not profit off the surveillance, detainment, and exploitation of the Uyghurs. 

Another aspect of advocacy is understanding the ways that technology has aided and facilitated much of this abuse. Without these powerful tools, the level of surveillance and control simply would not have been possible. This is another reason that the United States and other countries must not be complicit in aiding or supporting this regime through the devices we purchase, systems we employ, or even the messages that we send. While much of the work to be done to counter the CCP’s hold will be more expansive than simply speaking to the technologies at play, it must not be less than that. Technology is part of the social ecosystem that we all inhabit today and must not be seen as an ancillary issue but a core element of any effective foreign policy strategy. As Christians engage on these pressing issues in the public square, we must do so from a full-orbed vision of life in a digital society — committed to basic freedoms of expression, religious belief, and dignity for all.

  • 1
    A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.
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 / Oct 14

In recent years, the Chinese government has escalated its persecution of religious minorities. The communist regime is using totalitarian tactics of forced labor, mass sterilization, and pervasive surveillance targeting Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Since 2017, China has detained more than one million Uyghurs in concentration camps. Countering China morally for these atrocities is a key part of the ERLC’s international engagement. To continue that work, Jeff Pickering and Chelsea Patterson Sobolik welcomed Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Axios to share her reporting on China.

“China is committing a cultural genocide against an ethnic minority and the world is basically, hardly even blinking. And that matters because this shows the kind of government, and the kind of ideology, that is driving what will be the most powerful country later in the 21st century.”– Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios China

Guest Biography

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is the China reporter at Axios, where she covers China’s influence in the United States and abroad. Before joining Axios, she served as the lead reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ China Cables project, a major leak of classified Chinese government documents revealing the inner workings of mass internment camps in Xinjiang. She also previously worked as a national security reporter for The Daily Beast and as an editor and reporter for Foreign Policy magazine. Allen-Ebrahimian holds a Masters in East Asian studies from Yale University. She is the author of the weekly Axios China newsletter. 

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 8

Over the last few weeks, I have been studying the country of China with my seven-year-old daughter. We have researched landmarks, language, customs, and geography. I want to teach my daughter about the diversity of God’s creation, so when we looked at maps of China and its regions, we looked at pictures of the various people groups that live in the country’s different regions.

I intentionally pointed out the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China where the Uighur people have faced brutality because of their race and a campaign of genocide at the hands of the Chinese authorities. I could not ignore this historical moment in our geography lesson. So without going into graphic detail, I shared with her that a government is designed to protect its people (Rom. 13:1–7). But in Xinjiang, the government is hurting its people.

As we studied China, our family also looked forward to the latest live-action Disney movie, “Mulan.” The film recounts the story of a fearless young woman who risks everything out of love for her family and country to become one of China’s greatest warriors. The movie’s anthem is “Loyal, Brave, True,” a song that proclaims the importance of fighting for freedom and to protect one’s family.

With core themes like these, I didn’t anticipate the dilemma I now face. Since the movie’s release, I’ve learned that the movie was filmed in Turpan, a city where local officials operate concentration camps that hold Uighur people. In the movie’s closing credits, Disney explicitly thanks multiple Chinese government entities including Turpan’s public safety bureau, which is responsible for operating camps in the area. Moreover, Liu Yifei, the actress who plays Mulan, has used her platform to speak out in support of the Chinese Communist Party and against freedom for the Chinese people. In light of these realities, the ideals of loyalty, bravery, and truth that the film upholds look more like a thinly veiled facade behind which Disney is hiding actions that actually support China’s totalitarian government.  

My prayer for my daughter is that she won’t grow up turning a blind eye to injustice and suffering but rather see that she has a stewardship from God to be loyal, brave, and true.

We have decided we will eventually watch the movie, though some families have made the choice that they will not. As a parent, I am now faced with several questions. Do I simply teach my daughter the surface-level values of the film? After all, Disney has often presented heroes and heroines that fight for justice and truth. Or, do I pull back the veil and begin to teach my daughter about the complexities of evil?

This is an ongoing work in progress, but here is where we have started:  

  1. Teach your kids about human dignity. It’s not lost on me that my daughter and I enjoy many privileges. We experience safety and freedom while at the same moment Uighur families experience the horrors of persecution. This is grace, because the Uighur people are equal to us in the eyes of God. They are inherently his image-bearers, but they have not been treated with dignity.
  2. Teach your children to seek justice while trusting in God’s sovereignty. When we see injustice happening in our world, we have a desire to take necessary action. But, as Christians, when we act, we should do so hoping in the truth that God is sovereign over both good and evil. God’s Word promises that Jesus will return one day to put an end to injustice and evil on this earth. This fact serves as a reminder for me to teach my daughter to pray for the Uighur people. We pray for world leaders to honor the dignity of the Uighur people by standing up to the Chinese authorities, and we pray that the Uighur people would hear and believe the good news of the gospel—that they’ll find hope in Christ in the midst of this present darkness.
  3. Teach kids to respect government authorities but also help them realize that human governments are broken. It’s part of our civic duty to serve our communities and country by giving back to others. And it’s important to teach our children to be good citizens. As I teach my daughter the history of our nation, I’m careful to emphasize our civic duty as citizens of the United States within the context of a biblical worldview in which God’s sovereignty reigns supreme. Our children should know that bravery is required when seeking to protect others or build up our communities. But our children also need to learn that governments never carry out truth and justice perfectly. Broken institutions are bad saviors. We should not lead our kids to put their hope in man-made institutions but in God alone. Governments will fail, but ultimately God’s justice will not fail.
  4. Finally, help your kids pay attention to history and what is happening around them. I want to teach my daughter to recognize good and evil in the world as she grows. One way to help her grow in discernment is to help her learn history and then think about it in light of the Scriptures. What events and people have led to this current moment? How can I relate current events to her in age-appropriate ways? Parents will differ about whether or not it’s appropriate to pull back the veil on Disney’s connections to the Chinese authorities. Your child’s age and emotional makeup should factor into your decision about what information they can handle. But every parent should seek to talk to their children about current events and help their children to evaluate the world in light of a biblical worldview.

I began this series of geography lessons to help my daughter see that God has created a world that is bigger than her limited view. I believe it’s important for her to learn from an early age that God’s world is bigger than the community of like-minded people around us. I also want her to hide the truths of God’s Word deep within her heart so that as she grows to have a larger view of the world, she’ll also bravely seek justice, goodness, and truth. My prayer for my daughter is that she won’t grow up turning a blind eye to injustice and suffering but rather see that she has a stewardship from God to be loyal, brave, and true.

By / Sep 11

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss west coast wildfires, Disney’s Mulan, the ongoing opioid crisis, the Tokyo Olympics, the return of the NFL, and SheSheds. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including a piece by Catherine Parks with “Are we teaching our children civility with our lives? Putting ourselves in another’s shoes,” Dan Darling with “5 things I learned about work from working remote,” and Jeff Pickering with “Why I’ve looked forward to church outside during COVID-19.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Meagan Smith to talk about the last six months since the start of quarantine.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. California’s Bay Area wakes up to disorienting orange skies
  2. At least seven dead as swath of wildfires rage across California, Oregon, Washington, other western states
  3. Disney’s live-action Mulan released worldwide after months-long delays
  4. Disney’s ‘Mulan’ faces criticism for filming in China’s Xinjiang region
  5. The Opioid Crisis, Already Serious, Has Intensified During Coronavirus Pandemic
  6. New York City to resume indoor dining at restaurants
  7. West Virginia University becomes the latest school to backtrack on in-person classes after a spike in COVID-19 cases
  8. Tokyo Olympics will go ahead ‘with or without COVID-19′ says IOC vice president
  9. Special report: The NFL is back and weirder than ever
  10. Americans are buying, building, converting backyard sheds into home offices

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