FORT WASHINGTON, Md.—The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom said the current administration is fighting for freedom of belief like no other has before, while emphasizing that the Chinese communist regime is at the forefront of religious oppression.
The highest levels of government, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to push the issue to the forefront, ambassador Sam Brownback said in a panel discussion, adding that they see it as as a fundamental human right.
“What the Trump administration is doing is really defending this right in a multiple set of ways and doing it more than any administration has previously,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27. “We consider this a God-given human right—not one that’s given by government.”
Brownback, who has served as ambassador since February 2018, said that “80 percent of the world’s population is in a country that has religious persecution,” adding that China is “probably the best in the world” at oppressing religious beliefs.
“China’s at war with faith right now. China is using high-tech technology now, artificial intelligence systems to really do religious oppression,” he said.
“The future of oppression is you’re going to be marginalized in the society,” Brownback continued. “People are going to have your face and they’re going to know your DNA, they’re going to know who you are.”
Such systems are already being modeled and worked on in China today. Last year, the regime introduced mandatory facial scans for people seeking to open a new phone account. Brownback said the United States is “very concerned that these systems are going to spread,” and it is one of the reasons Congress is acting to limit technology sharing between America and China.
“That area of oppression, that growth of oppression, and that nature is one of the most fearful things that I see coming into this space,” he said.
“This [religious freedom] is starting to get pushed more on Capitol Hill too … It’s really starting to gather more steam, its just this fundamental human right and you’ve got to get it right.”
The panel discussion “Without Religious Freedom, What’s Left?” was held on the second day of the annual conference. Other panelists included journalist Asra Nomani of the Pearl Project, Todd Starnes of The Todd Starnes Show, and Sander Gerber of Hudson Bay Capital. It was moderated by Jan Jekielek, a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show “American Thought Leaders.”
U.S. officials have warned about the risks of using China’s Huawei Technologies for 5G infrastructure’s and have urged European countries to think carefully about the security and economic implications.
Brownback said they recently launched an International Religious Freedom Alliance group with 27 other nations to advocate on this issue. He brought up how Trump was the first president to place tariffs on a NATO ally, referring to how Trump pushed to get Pastor Andrew Brunson released from a Turkish prison. Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, had been charged with unsubstantiated terrorism offenses by Turkey and jailed since 2016.
Trump had repeatedly called for the release of Brunson, calling the detainment a “total disgrace.” Trump had called for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to free him and added a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey, helping drive the lira currency down against the dollar. Brunson was eventually released in October 2018.
Brownback said the Chinese regime is trying to substitute or change the thinking and behavior of its citizens when it comes to faith.
“Sort of trying to take it over and saying ‘Okay, we want you to believe in the state. We want you to believe in the Communist Party,'” he said.
Last year U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on the Chinese regime to end the detention and “brutalization” of adherents who practice the spiritual discipline, Falun Gong. Twenty years after the Chinese regime launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate the practice, the persecution continues.
At least 4,136 Falun Gong adherents to date are verified to have died while in police or state custody, according to Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that serves as a clearinghouse on the persecution. However the actual number is likely to be far higher due to difficulty of obtaining and verifying such information in China.
Different religions and faiths have been persecuted throughout human history, but Brownback said that in the long term, none of the cases hold out for long.
“It may be successful for a little while—your tanks are stronger than somebody’s human flesh standing there … but the kingdom of man will not overtake the kingdom of God.”