The Crackdown Continues
The ongoing persecution of Christians in China.
May 23, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 34 • By MEGHAN CLYNE
What’s to be done? The USCIRF’s staff expert on China, Scott Flipse, notes that the problem is likely to intensify in coming months: The regime is working to formulate a new policy on religion before China’s presumptive president, Xi Jinping, takes over in 2012. What to do with China’s estimated 60 million Protestants—who are growing both in number and in their perceived threat to the regime—will prove to be Beijing’s major challenge.
The Holy See, too, is said to be mindful of China’s 2012 leadership change, with some advocating a “wait and see” approach. Yet a few serendipitous leadership changes have already taken place. The previous head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples—which oversees relations with China, and of which Cardinal Zen has been highly critical—submitted his resignation, as required, upon reaching the age of 75 last month. The pope swiftly replaced him, naming Archbishop Fernando Filoni, who is described as a “China expert,” to the post last week. And late last year, Pope Benedict XVI appointed as secretary of the congregation Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai—whom Cardinal Zen praised as “a Chinese with very clear loyalty” to the Vatican.
For its part, the USCIRF recommends that Washington ratchet up political pressure. “Despite recent strong public statements, the [Obama] administration continues to be perceived as weak on human rights in China,” the bipartisan commission notes. Its recommendations to the U.S. government include helping to develop free and secure email and high-speed Internet access via satellite, as well as the “immediate” distribution of counter-censorship programs. Shea advocates visa restrictions on those Chinese provincial leaders who are especially egregious abusers of religious freedom. Smith agrees, saying that the policy should be a “no-brainer.” The congressman would also like to see sanctions that punish corporations aiding Beijing’s repression, such as Internet companies that turn over information on users to the Chinese government.
But perhaps the most important thing is not to mistake China’s new savvy for tolerance. “It’s right out of the 101 book of how dictatorships get rid of religion: They co-opt it or they destroy it,” Smith says. Fewer bloody crackdowns is always a good thing—but more sophisticated repression is a poor substitute for religious freedom.
Meghan Clyne is the managing editor of National Affairs.