US-China confrontation over religion could escalate


In the US-China rivalry that involves a complex mix of diplomacy, trade wars and sanctions, religion has come under increased pressure after the communist regime banned the online spread of religion by foreign nationals, allegedly to make the more Chinese-oriented religion.

On December 22, China finally put the final nail in the coffin of modern means of religious propagation by issuing a new norm that prohibits all foreign institutions and individuals from disseminating religious content online. Expected from an undemocratic government, China invoked national security interests to enact the new law.

The new rules, titled Measures for the Administration of Religious Information Services on the Internet, were adopted two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a national conference on religious work.

In his speech on December 4, Xi stressed the Chinese orientation of religions and their development in the Chinese context. The regulations are the first of their kind to monitor religious affairs online.

On December 21, China barred the entry of four members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) following US sanctions over human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, where camps detention centers are run by China to house Uyghur Muslims.

It all started when former US President Donald Trump declared on January 20, 2021, on his last day in office, that China was committing crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghur Muslims by restricting their religious freedom and placing them in detention camps.

Besides the alleged arbitrary detention of more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, forced sterilizations and a crackdown on religious freedom were cited by Joe Biden

Thus, the United States became the first country to apply sanctions against China. Relations plunged further after Trump left the Oval Office. Beijing retaliated by imposing countersanctions on 28 former officials in its administration, including Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state.

Besides the alleged arbitrary detention of more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, forced sterilizations and a crackdown on religious freedom were cited by Joe Biden, the new Catholic President, when he announced a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics in winter event to be held next month.

USCIRF, a federal entity that assesses the policies of countries where religious freedom faces threats and unrest, has planned to visit China to get first-hand information.

But on Dec. 21, Zhao Lijian, a Chinese government spokesman, said the president, vice president and two USCIRF commissioners had been banned from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. Their assets in China are frozen and institutions and citizens are prohibited from dealing with them, he added.

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USCIRF has strongly criticized China, especially the communist regime’s policies on religious freedom. When the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games was announced, USCIRF Vice President Nury Turkel reacted by saying that “…a genocidal regime should not have been granted the privilege of host the Olympics in the first place”.

China’s “systematic and flagrant violations of religious freedom” against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and Falun Gong practitioners “betray the Olympic spirit”, Turkel observed.

Religious freedom in China has also been taken up by the UN, which cited a report by London-based lawyers on the genocide and attacks on religious freedom against the Uyghur minority.

The report, compiled at the request of the World Uyghur Congress in Exile, “is deeply troubling” in its claims about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the human rights office. the UN, while noting that the UN had not yet verified the report.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, says its policies and detention camps are for job training and fighting Islamic extremism

According to the panel, Chinese leaders want to destroy the religious identity of Uyghur Muslims “through population control measures and as such have committed genocide.”

Beijing dismissed the report, saying the World Uyghur Congress had “paid for liars” in an effort to “concoct a political tool to smear China”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has sought to visit Xinjiang for years to verify the prosecution of Uyghur Muslims on religious grounds, but the spokeswoman said no visit of this type had been made possible by the Chinese government.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang and says its policies and detention camps are for job training and the fight against Islamic extremism.

China and the United States use religion, but for different purposes.

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