Freedom of belief plays central role in Washington’s foreign policy, particularly in confrontation with Communist China
Oct. 27 marked International Religious Freedom Day and was commemorated by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a press release emphasizing America’s covenant to uphold religious freedom around the world.
“An individual, irrespective of their religion or beliefs, should be free to organize their lives in accordance with their consciences,” Pomepo said, while further emphasizing that this tenet is a core aspect of U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.
“Yet today, three of the world’s most egregious religious freedom abusers—the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, and North Korea—have tightened their coercive measures to silence their own people.”
He continued, “Worse, the PRC has sought to eradicate all forms of faith and belief that don’t align with Chinese Communist Party [CCP] doctrine.”
Pomepo was not the only U.S. official to decry the situation in mainland China.
“China has declared war on faith. We’ve seen increasing Chinese government abuse of believers of nearly all faiths and from all parts of the mainland,” said Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom during an interview with ShareAmerica on Oct. 22.
Brownback continued, “And to this, we say to China: Do not be mistaken; you will not win your war on faith. This will have consequences on your standing at home and around the world.”
“A global movement on religious freedom is now a reality,” Pompeo said “one rich in regional, cultural, and political diversity.”
The United States launched its International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) was in February 2020, through which “31 nations have pledged their commitment to this like-minded network dedicated to addressing challenges around the world,” according to an Oct. 27 statement by America’s top diplomat.
As a result of the State Department’s pressure, several countries have released people held for their faith.
‘Reign of terror’
Religious freedom is a growing component in the Trump administration’s ideological confrontation with the CCP, which is the world’s most powerful communist regime. The Party’s persecution of religion has also featured more prominently in recent Western reporting.
In a September article by the Wall Street Journal, titled “China’s Main Threat is a Moral One,” the publication remarked “China is imposing a reign of terror on religious minorities—Christian, Tibetan Buddhist, Uighur Muslim, Falun Gong and others.”
Condemnation of the Communist Party is backed by action. On July 9, the United States announced sanctions on the Public Security Bureau in the Chinese region of Xinjiang and four CCP officials under the Global Magnitsky Act.
One of the officials is Chen Quanguo, Party Secretary of Xinjiang, which lies in northwestern China. It is home to the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, who have been subject to mass incarceration, forced labour, and other abuses for more than half a decade. The CCP presents its actions as “counter-terrorism.”
During a speech given in Indonesia on Oct. 29, Pompeo rejected the Party’s rhetoric: “But you know—you know; we know—we know that there is no counterterrorism justification for forcing Uyghur Muslims to eat pork during Ramadan or destroying a Muslim cemetery.”
“There is no poverty-alleviation justification for forced sterilizations or taking children away from their parents to be re-educated in state-run boarding schools.”
His speech took further aim at another absurd justification of religious persecution claimed by the CCP: that the Party is “saving” a so-called “backwards and superstitious” people from feudalism and poverty.
“I know that these same CCP officials have spun fantastic tales of happy Uyghurs eager to discard their ethnic, religious, and cultural identities to become more ‘modern’ and enjoy the benefits of CCP-led development.”
“When you hear these arguments, I’d just ask you to do this: search your hearts. Look at the facts. Listen to the tales of the survivors and of their families,” Pompeo said. “Think about what you know of how authoritarian governments treat those who resist its rule.”
While the past few years have seen the Chinese regime under Xi Jinping step up its broad assault on religious faith and ethnic culture, the CCP has always regarded spiritual beliefs as inimical to its atheist totalitarianism. State propaganda often refers to faith as “feudal superstition.”
Bitter Winter, an online magazine that reports on religious freedom in China, has documented dozens of cases in the last few months of CCP authorities destroying Buddha statues and temples, closing and razing places of worship, and intensifying atheist education.
In Hebei Province, northern China, a Buddhist temple built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) was demolished for the second time late this September — the first was during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s targeting China’s traditional culture.
In Henan, an impoverished province in central China home to many Christians, authorities are using a variety of methods to prevent children from holding religious beliefs or engaging in worship. According to Bitter Winter, the measures are part of a drive to implement the February 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs.
Persecution of faith by the CCP had lessened somewhat following the Cultural Revolution, only to restart in earnest by 1999. That year, the Communist Party banned Falun Gong, a popular spiritual practice that had gathered an estimated 70 to 100 million adherents. According to human rights groups, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are confirmed dead as a result of the persecution, and perhaps more than a million have been jailed during the two decades since the beginning of the nationwide campaign.
Pompeo remarked that the stories he heard of how people in China have suffered to uphold their belief has strengthened his own resolve to defend religious freedoms. Pompeo noted that his own Christian faith teaches “that human beings have a basic dignity because they are made in God’s image, and that as people of faith we have an obligation to honour that truth by protecting the weak and comforting the afflicted.”
“It teaches me that of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Pompeo concluded, as he called on “free people of free nations” to defend all human beings’ basic right to religious and spiritual freedom, “It is our duty. Even as we each do this—and even as we do this in our own and often different ways, we should recognize that we have strength in numbers.”
“Our cherished rights and values are absolutely worth defending at every moment, as the birthright of every people,” he said.