Chinese government is ‘at war with faith,’ says U.S. envoy

The U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, is calling on the Chinese government to end religious persecution and warning that China’s policy is breeding terrorism instead of preventing it.

Chinese officials are “at war with faith,” he said in March 8 remarks at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club. “It is a war they will not win.”

While stressing that Americans have high regard for the Chinese people, Brownback noted that China’s leaders continue “to violate the sacred right to religious freedom.” In July 2018, the State Department hosted the first Ministerial Meeting to Advance Religious Freedom, and the second is scheduled for July 16–18, 2019.

Brownback spoke of China’s vast internment camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups are being arbitrarily detained.

“The Trump administration is deeply concerned, and considers this oppression a deliberate attempt by Beijing to redefine and control members of these Muslim minority groups’ identity, culture and faith,” Brownback said.

Buildings behind barbed wire (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)
One of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region where Muslims are detained. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)

Brownback said he wants unfettered access to the camps so he can speak to inmates without constraint.

“Based on the testimonies of [camp] survivors, it is clear that China’s misguided and cruel policies in Xinjiang are creating resentment, hatred, division, poverty and anger,” he said. “To use a Chinese official’s own words, this is essentially fertilizing the ‘soil that breeds terrorism.'”

The ambassador also raised concerns about Beijing’s mistreatment of other religious minorities, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese Christians, who have suffered growing repression in recent months.

He urged the immediate release of Christian pastor Wang Yi and Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, detained by Chinese authorities for supposedly “inciting subversion of state power,” and of pastor John Sanqiang Cao, imprisoned by China for pursuing missionary work.

“The gates of religious freedom will fly open in China, and the iron curtain of religious persecution will come down,” Brownback said. “The Chinese government is currently on the wrong side of history.”