In Hong Kong, CCP Is Using ‘Insidious’ Ways to Attack Religion: Experts

‘CCP ideology and religion are not compatible.’
In Hong Kong, CCP Is Using ‘Insidious’ Ways to Attack Religion: Experts
A requiem mass is held for the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong on Jan. 4, 2023. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
11/21/2023
Updated:
11/21/2023
0:00

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using “insidious” and “subtle” ways to suppress religious freedom in Hong Kong, according to Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch.

The freedom of belief is “under increasing and intensifying threat in Hong Kong,” Mr. Rogers said.

“Why? Hong Kong is still an international city … closing Christian schools and churches may still be too shocking to foreign expatriates and affect the city’s international reputation. So rather, the CCP can restrict religious freedom by using insidious means: corrupting Christian education and exerting total control on churches without actually closing them,” he said at an event hosted by Hudson Institute’s China Center on Nov. 15.

‘Insidious’ and ’Subtle' Attack

Mr. Rogers’s comments came days after UK-based rights group Hong Kong Watch released a report detailing how the Chinese communist regime undermines religious freedom in the former British colony as Beijing tightened its grip over it.

“The CCP is using … more insidious, more subtle means to achieve the same purpose,” he said.

Titled “Sell Out My Soul: The Impending Threats to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Hong Kong,” the report laid out the impact of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which criminalizes anything the CCP considers secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country. Persons found guilty of violating this law can face up to life in prison.

The law has resulted in widespread self-censorship by religious leaders.

“It is now almost impossible to find religious clergy in Hong Kong who will preach in their sermons anything explicitly or even implicitly related to human rights, human dignity, freedom, or justice,” said Mr. Rogers, who authored the rights group’s latest report.

With over 60 percent of government-funded schools in Hong Kong operated by church organizations, Mr. Rogers expressed concern that freedom of religion in the education sector is under threat due to the national security law, which has become a compulsory course for students as young as 6 years old under an overhaul of the curriculum.

Mr. Rogers pointed out that Beijing’s efforts to “sinicize” religions have spread to Hong Kong. The campaign, first launched in 2015 by CCP leader Xi Jinping, involves aligning religion or spiritual beliefs to the Chinese communist ideology and, crucially, making the believers loyal to the Party.
Several well-known religious clergy in the city, Mr. Rogers said, were punished by the authorities. Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, was arrested last year, along with four others, over a now-disbanded fund that provides assistance to detained pro-democracy protesters. Pastor Garry Pang Moon-yuen was jailed for a year over charges of sedition for allegedly disrupting a trial related to a vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“You might say, well, they were arrested or imprisoned or threatened for their political pro-democracy activities rather than directly their religious activities. But nonetheless, the restriction of their freedom of conscience relates to religious freedom because they are people who supported democracy inspired and informed by their religious convictions,” Mr. Rogers said.

Campaigner Benedict Rogers speaks at a rally for democracy in Hong Kong at Trafalgar Square in London, England, on June 12, 2021. (Laurel Chor/Getty Images)
Campaigner Benedict Rogers speaks at a rally for democracy in Hong Kong at Trafalgar Square in London, England, on June 12, 2021. (Laurel Chor/Getty Images)

‘It’s About Trade’

Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, associated Beijing’s decision to use the national security law to attack religions in Hong Kong with the economic troubles it faces.

“It’s about trade. China is going through a period of decline at the moment,” Ms. Shea said, noting that the country’s population is steadily shrinking, posing a challenge to Beijing’s efforts to revitalize the ailing economy as foreign investments withdraw.

“It’s a period where they’re trying to keep alive the economy and financial hub that Hong Kong was,” she said.

If Christians in Hong Kong were subjected to arbitrary detention or forced sterilization, like tactics that the authorities used to “sinicize” Uyghur Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang, it would harm the image of Hong Kong and look “very bad” for the West, Ms. Shea added.

Nina Shea, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, speaks at a briefing on the persecution of Falun Gong on Capitol Hill in Congress on May 23, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Nina Shea, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, speaks at a briefing on the persecution of Falun Gong on Capitol Hill in Congress on May 23, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Nevertheless, Ms. Shea found that pro-Beijing media outlets in Hong Kong, like Ta Kung Pao, sought to justify the CCP’s efforts, arguing that Christianity is incompatible with China because it doesn’t have ancestor worship.

“But if you look at the Asian religions, they haven’t really fared any better, in fact, much worse,” she said.

Ms. Shea pointed to the CCP’s eradication campaign against Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice that consists of meditative exercises and moral teaching based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

The ongoing persecution of Falun Gong was launched by former CCP chief Jiang Zemin in 1999 after the authorities estimated that there were around 70 million to 100 million adherents. Viewing its surging popularity as a threat to the Party’s rule, Jiang gave an order to “eradicate” Falun Gong, resulting in millions of adherents being thrown into detention facilities across the mainland, where they are subjected to torture, brainwashing, slave labor, and forced organ harvesting.

Eradicating Faith

While people in Hong Kong can still practice Falun Gong or go to places of worship such as churches and mosques, Olivia Enos, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, warned that Hongkongers could face the same fate as those in the mainland.

Using the Uyghurs as an example, Ms. Enos said they faced lesser forms of abuse before the Xi regime escalated the persecution. Now, many Western governments have formally labeled the regime’s repression as “genocide.”

“I just don’t think that the CCP would stop, per se.”

Olivia Enos, Washington director at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, speaks during a panel about the transnational repression of Falun Gong, attacks against Shen Yun, and suppression of Hong Kong in Washington on July 17, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Olivia Enos, Washington director at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, speaks during a panel about the transnational repression of Falun Gong, attacks against Shen Yun, and suppression of Hong Kong in Washington on July 17, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, believes the CCP’s goal in persecuting religions is “much more dangerous” than burning the cross or destroying a place of worship.

He pointed to the connection that Xi drew between the management of religion and national security, calling it a pretext for the regime’s human rights violations.

“If you look back the way that Xi Jinping has been talking about religion in the context of foreign encirclement since 2012, he has been telegraphing very concerning policy agenda,” said Mr. Turkel.

In 2014, through the National Security Strategy, Xi stated that China is facing worsening threats, and the CCP must preemptively crush those threats before they destroy its rule and derail its grand plan for the future, according to Mr. Turkel.

In the name of national security, the CCP has escalated surveillance and restriction in Xinjiang, where more than 1 million Uyghurs and many other Muslim minority groups were sent through a vast network of internment camps and subjected to indoctrination and forced labor. The authorities called them reeducation schools and linked the repression to counterterrorism.

Chinese authorities apply the same logic in Hong Kong. Mr. Turkel noted the Hong Kong Watch report has found that some religious leaders with connections to the outside world have been perceived as potential threats or instigators of political upheaval.

Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in Washington on May 5, 2023. (Lei Chen/The Epoch Times)
Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in Washington on May 5, 2023. (Lei Chen/The Epoch Times)

‘Medical Metaphor’

To maintain its iron grip on religion, the CCP often treats people of faith as though they have “mental illnesses,” according to Mr. Turkel.

When the CCP began to persecute Falun Gong, “the world did not say anything,” he noted. The efforts now expand to Uyghur Muslims, with officials claiming that Uyghurs “have infectious diseases and the government must cure before it spreads the vital organs of the state,” he said.

“They’re using that kind of medical metaphor, not only insulting the religious practitioners but also in a very skilled and subtle way to destroy religious belief because the CCP leadership genuinely believes that religious practitioners lack loyalty to the CCP,” Mr. Turkel said.

The goal is to turn religious believers into supporters of the CCP. But the “CCP ideology and religion are not compatible,” yet countries in the free world, including the United States, haven’t had a “deep” understanding of it, he added.

Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times, covering China's politics, international relationships, security, and society. Contact Dorothy at [email protected].
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