In this episode of “American Thought Leaders,” Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek sits down with Gary Bauer, a commissioner with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, to talk about China’s war on religions.
Bauer, who is also the president of the American Values think tank and held several positions in the Reagan administration, discusses just how bad the situation is in China and what can be done about it. He also talks about how the regime in Beijing manages to get many democratic governments to turn a blind eye to religious persecution.
Jan Jekielek: So you’re a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom?
Gary Bauer: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: A lot of work needs to be done in this area, clearly. You just published an annual report. And Cathy, from our China team, a few days back interviewed you about this.
Mr. Bauer: Right.
Mr. Jekielek: I thought it was a fascinating interview, and I want to go a little more in depth, especially on the China piece.
So you actually mentioned that China stands apart from all the other egregious violators of religious freedom. You’d think North Korea is this place that’s, obviously, very extreme in this area—that would be the one that stands apart. Why does China stand apart, in your mind?
Mr. Bauer: Sadly, when we look around the world, we’re looking at a gallery of rogues, right? Unfortunately, persecution of human beings—because of how they seek God and how they want to worship God—appears to be sadly growing in the 21st century, which is not what most of us would have expected or hoped for. But when I say that I would put China in a separate category, all by itself, the reason I contend that’s the case is that North Korea, as bad as it is—and it’s one big prison camp—North Korea is not extending its influence around the world. People aren’t looking to North Korea for signs of what the future is going to be like. It’s seen as a backward regime that routinely violates human rights.
China, in contrast, is a rising power. Its economy has grown in the last several decades. It’s clearly building a military that, I think, is for more than defensive purposes. Its neighbors are getting very nervous. And it throws its weight around as it makes deals in the Third World with various countries and extends its influence. So here we have a country that, in many ways, has declared war on all religions, and is deeply troubled when any of its citizens are worshiping God. That power, with all of the influence it has, is having a greater and greater role on the world scene. I think that’s a troubling combination.
Mr. Jekielek: So what are some of the most egregious manifestations of this that you came across in the report? Can you chronicle a few of those for us?
Mr. Bauer: There’s a lot we outline in the report about what China has been doing. Of course, for years, it was persecuting what’s called the house churches—these unregistered, unlicensed churches, where people meet in their homes or apartments secretly, will sometimes baptize their children in rivers at night so that they’re not seen. For a long time, registered churches were given more leeway, but now they’ve been coming under pressure. And there’s been pastors arrested from those churches, if they would not agree to bring into their churches this new facial recognition technology and so forth. So that’s been a growing problem.
And then most notably and most disturbingly is the efforts by the Chinese government to “reeducate” Chinese Uyghurs. It’s difficult to get accurate information, but there have been enough reports that have come out that indicates that perhaps millions of, certainly over a million, Chinese Uyghurs have been put into what looked like reeducation camps, in order to mold them into something that the Chinese government can be more comfortable tolerating.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. So I want to talk a bit more about the Uyghurs, but I want to go back to Christianity for a moment. What about this deal that the Vatican has signed with the Chinese Communist Party? How is that playing out for them?
Mr. Bauer: You know, it’s hard to know all the details, but many of us raised an eyebrow when we saw the Vatican make that deal. Every religious group historically, particularly under persecution, will come up with ways to make a separate peace, hoping that they wind up being treated better. I am afraid history is not kind in this regard. When you end up feeding the wolf somebody else, or thinking you can pet it and things will be better for you, it often ends up being the exact opposite. So I don’t want to be a harsh critic of the Vatican on this point.
I understand what was motivating them, but I think all these various religious groups whether it’s evangelicals or Catholics or Muslims, Buddhists, the Falun Gong, etc. I think they would all be much better off to try to work together, because together and all defending their right to seek God and worship as they see fit, I think they’ll be stronger than letting the Chinese government pick them off or peel them off one at a time.
Mr. Jekielek: The report actually mentioned that the persecution of Catholics has increased since the signing of this.
Mr. Bauer: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: That kind of exemplifies your point.
Mr. Bauer: Well, it does make my point. And as I said, the Chinese government appears to be at war with all religions—with any Chinese citizen seeking God, trying to find meaning in life, what is life all about, or worshiping as they see fit. And I don’t think making separate deals is going to lessen that persecution. In fact, I think it’s going to make it less likely that those representing the people being persecuted will feel strong enough or open enough to criticize the Chinese government for what they’re doing, because it might upset the deal that’s been made.
Mr. Jekielek: I see. So let’s move over to … over a million Uyghurs being held in … is it fair to call them concentration camps?
Mr. Bauer: They certainly have been called concentration camps. People can argue about the specific word that one ought to use. But what we know for certain is that they’re there against their will. They haven’t been accused of any crime. We’ve gotten multiple reports of beatings and other types of intimidation, and we know that the whole community is living in fear. So if not at the level of the kind of concentration camps we saw [with] the Nazis during World War II, it’s certainly something very serious—very much a violation of international standards of human rights and religious liberty—and something that every country in the world that respects human rights and religious liberty ought to be very critical about and very outspoken about.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s astounding the role that modern surveillance technology is playing in this: shaping behavior and controlling through fear. Can you speak a little bit to that?
Mr. Bauer: Technology is often hailed as something that will automatically make the world a better place, and we all love the convenience of cell phones and being able to go onto our computer and find things in a few moments that might have taken days of research before all this technology became available. But technology by itself is morally neutral. It depends on whose hands the technology is in. So the same technology that might help a country or society identify a potential terrorist in an airport by facial recognition can be used by a government that’s suppressing its people to identify those that worship God or belong to groups or faiths that that government feels threatened by.
The Chinese seem all too often to be using their technological prowess—which often is stolen, by the way, from Western countries that are doing business in China—to oppress their people, and it’s something that I hope American technology companies need to be more cognizant of.
Mr. Jekielek: So this whole technological scheme that’s been set up in Xinjiang to control the population—there is a great Jamestown report on this, actually, that this was built on experiments as to how to control the Falun Gong practitioners in China, which in the late ’90s, I believe was something like 70 million to 100 million people … throughout the country. There was this huge campaign mobilized against them. You recently appeared at the 20th year [commemoration] of the April 25 appeal of Falun Gong practitioners. Can you talk a little bit about what that is or the significance of that event?
Mr. Bauer: Well, the Falun Gong have been an interest of mine for a long time. During the era of Tiananmen Square and some of the turmoil in China at that time, I was heading a public policy group called the Family Research Council. And we decided to make the issue of most-favored-nation trade status with China as an issue that we were going to get involved in. It didn’t please all my donors because some of them were successful businessmen and hoped to make a big profit selling things to the Chinese.
But, nonetheless, I felt like this was an issue that, as a Christian-oriented group, we needed to be involved in. Not because the Falun Gong are Christians—they’re not—but because any time a government starts persecuting a group like that, it ultimately and inevitably spreads then to the persecution of other groups. So, over the years, I’ve written about the Falun Gong and have spoken up on their behalf a number of times, and will continue to do that.
Mr. Jekielek: Fantastic. So one of the things that you actually mentioned was this issue of organ harvesting, which is an issue that’s very important to The Epoch Times. We broke that story in 2006.
Mr. Bauer: Congratulations.
Mr. Jekielek: When I first heard about it, I thought it was a conspiracy theory. It took a bunch of research for us to realize: Wow, this is horribly, horribly real.
Can you speak about that a little bit and the implication for prisoners of conscience being used in this horrible process?
Mr. Bauer: Well, it’s a terrible development. As you said, it almost sounds like something out of a bad science fiction movie. It certainly doesn’t sound like something you would expect early in the 21st century where, presumably, we’re not living in an age of barbarism. It’s also another symptom of what I think happens in China all too often, which is the lack of respect for the dignity and autonomy of each human being. Now, in my own case, I’m an evangelical Christian, and … my faith teaches that every human being is made in the image of God. And because we’re made in the image of God, each human being, regardless of the color of their skin or how much money they have in the bank or any other extraneous thing—whether it’s a newborn with Down syndrome or whether it’s a 90-year-old with senility—that, nonetheless, each human being, being made in the image of God, has dignity and value and worth.
It’s hard to imagine a greater violation of that human dignity than harvesting the organs of political prisoners and others that have run afoul of the Chinese communist government. So, again, I would hope that every nation in the world that respects human rights would find their voice on this sort of issue and not look at what China may invest in your country or—if you’re a businessman in the United States, not sit there worried about whether you might report profits that are down 3 or 4 percent because you insulted some communist Chinese government official. People need to speak up about these issues, and this is a particularly horrifying development to see in China.
Mr. Jekielek: When Kathy interviewed you, actually, you mentioned—or maybe this was a little bit earlier—that you may have an opportunity to speak with the president about these matters. Did you have a chance to bring that up?
Mr. Bauer: Well, I have to be careful, because of what the rules are [about disclosing] personal conversations. But I was an early supporter of President [Donald] Trump, and I’m a longtime personal friend of Vice President [Mike] Pence. And because of that, I’m over at the White House quite a bit on a host of issues, and I regularly get an opportunity to speak about these issues to the highest levels of our government. And I promise I’ll continue to take advantage of that to bring up these issues. USCIRF will be briefing the vice president soon on a host of issues related to our annual report, and one of the issues I will be talking about, specifically, are the things that are happening in China right now.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s excellent to hear. One of the things that we’ve been covering at The Epoch Times—and I was speaking about this at an event at the Hoover Institution yesterday—is the incredible or horrible effectiveness that the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work [Department], essentially, the propaganda or disinformation about how everything’s great in China. We only need to think about investment. If we just think about the economics, the religious freedom side—that’ll all get worked out. The democracy side will get all worked out. And even today, we have a million people, essentially, in concentration camps. We have house Christians, Catholics, Falun Gong practitioners, and others being persecuted for their faith. Somehow, this isn’t in the collective zeitgeist of the public, certainly, but perhaps even policymakers. How does that work?
Mr. Bauer: Well, one of the arguments that we had over the whole issue of trade with China 30 years ago was the argument that many made, that trade with China would end up changing China, that there would be something magical about a quasi-capitalism being permitted in China that would result in political reforms. Many of us on the other side of the debate argued that it was much more likely that trade with China would … change the United States. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
As more and more American companies rely on China for profit growth, it has turned good American capitalists into apologists for the Chinese communist government. And I don’t know whether it’s more depressing or more outrageous. So I made it a point in our press conference introducing our annual report, to single out American businesses from being in bed with Chinese communists. I often wonder what Putin in Russia or the old-line communists in Russia think, looking at all the “progress” China’s been able to make.
Mr. Jekielek: Progress. Right.
Mr. Bauer: And keeping down the criticism from people in the United States that ought to be very critical. I suspect, though, the old Russian communists are probably kicking themselves that they didn’t think more about how important increasing trade with us would have been. Because the more they could have done that, the more likely we would have been to lessen our criticism of their violation of human rights during that era.
Mr. Jekielek: OK. [Is there] anything else you would like to share about the reports or the commission?
Mr. Bauer: Well, you know, over the years I discovered when we were working on a number of issues similar to these, for example, the treatment of Soviet Jews during the Cold War. I had a number of years in the Reagan administration, and we made it a point of bringing up the names of individual Jews being held in prison camps in Russia, and we found out later that when we would bring up their names, their treatment would improve. So I don’t know whether our conversation will somehow ever make it in to China under this communist rule. I suspect, in the world we live in, it may very well do that. So I would just say to anybody that happens to see this report in China and is suffering because of how they worship God, or is suffering because they’ve dared to speak out in criticism of the policies of their government: There are people around the world that care about you, that love you, that will continue to speak out for you no matter what the Chinese government does.
Don’t lose heart. I believe history will show that freedom wins in the final analysis, and better days are ahead.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s fantastic. And it’s people, but also the U.S. government, right?
Mr. Bauer: Absolutely. It’s very important that our government continue to stand for the basic values of the American founding, among which is the freedom of religion, and the fact that our liberty does not come from government. It doesn’t come from the American government. It certainly doesn’t come from the Chinese government.
Our liberty comes from the God that created us.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.