Future of religious freedom in Xi’s unprecedented third term

(ChinaAid—October 13, 2022) Xi removed the term limit for the Chinese presidency, and the upcoming 20th National People’s Congress will confirm his unprecedented third term. Considering his leadership until this point, the future of religious freedom looks bleak.


Xi started his first term with cross demolition in Zhejiang, a largely Christian province he used to oversee as a governor and party secretary. Communist Party officials fueled this campaign across the nation, calling the cross a symbol that dangered national security. They went as far as removing crosses from the fishing boats in Zhejiang, a custom for locals. 


Religious freedom continued to shrink with Xi’s insistence on Sinicization, which conforms all facets of culture to reflect socialist and Chinese values. While these efforts affected all religious minorities like Tibetans, Christian house churches responded in solidarity with the Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith, a joint statement by Pastor Wang Yi and signed by over 400 house church leaders and pastors. This led to a nationwide crackdown on underground pastors, including Wang Yi who was sentenced to nine years. Other signatories and their churches continue to face persecution, imprisonment, and harassment to this day.


Not only that, but the Communist Party restricted the rights of children as well. First, they stopped all minors from attending official state-sanctioned churches. Officials required these same children to sign documents renouncing their faith publicly. Nothing compares, however, to the horrors in the Xinjiang concentration camps.


The Chinese government claims that Islamic extremism caused them to create “vocational training” centers for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim area. There, residents found the Communist regime crept into their everyday lives with thousands of HikVision racial recognition cameras and intricate digital surveillance. Chinese authorities rounded up Uyghurs arbitrarily, but according to leaked documents, many of the arrests were predicated by citizens owning religious symbols or texts. An estimated 1-2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were thrown into concentration camps. Survivors testified at the Uyghur Tribunal that guards forced them to renounce their faith and defecate on the Quran, or otherwise face harsh punishment.


COVID gives Xi and the Communist Party unlimited authority to ban whatever gatherings they want. In several instances, church meetings disbanded due to authorities tracking their movements via China’s health app. Furthermore, the enforcement of the Sinicization of Christianity bends the arm of every portion of China to the implementation of socialism. This means state-sanctioned churches must sing Communist Party anthems during worship, hang pictures of Xi Jinping and Chairman Mao, or remove their crosses. The more this trend continues, the more we see it spreading into the digital world by monitoring private conversations and vetting potential clergymen.


President Xi Jinping stripped or limited virtually every religious liberty recognized by the UN, committed and continues to commit crimes against humanity, and violates many human rights norms. There is nothing that prevents him from continuing this effort in his extended reign. In fact, his staunch approach to “zero-COVID”  and his insistence on Sinicization paint a bleak future for religious freedom in China.


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