The World Cannot Ignore Beijing's Assault on Uighurs and Christians | Opinion

One of the rare bipartisan issues in Washington these days is concern over China on topics ranging from national defense and technology security to trade. Despite this growing consensus, however, the United States and the wider world must do more to confront the Chinese Communist Party on its human rights abuses—in particular its severe crackdown on religion.

The U.S. and others should take a page from the historic bipartisan efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry a generation ago that successfully pressured another communist, atheistic power—the Soviet Union—to back down from its crushing repression of 3 million Jewish citizens while simultaneously negotiating trade deals and pursuing nuclear disarmament.

At the outset of 2021, few Americans understand the disturbing degree to which Christians and Uighur Muslims in China are persecuted and how Beijing's ongoing assault on these communities constitutes one of the primary human rights tragedies taking place today.

China's Christian community—estimated at 100 to 130 million people—has suffered increased state suppression, including the destruction of churches and the removal of crosses from church roofs as well as the harassment of priests. According to ChinaAid's 2018 report, there has been a sharp uptick in persecution of Christians in China—more than 5,000 people have been detained, including more than 1,000 church leaders.

As part of Chinese president Xi Jinping's 2017 declaration of a new era of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" or Xi Jinping Thought, recent years have seen Chinese authorities attempt to sinicize Christianity by disconnecting relations with Western Christian entities, reinterpreting teachings according to "socialist values" and rewriting scripture.

The CCP has also stepped up its campaign to limit the scope of Christianity in China, utilize state-backed churches as mouthpieces of Chinese Communist Party propaganda and shut down unregistered congregations.

Furthermore, the CCP is working to prevent Christianity from being passed down to future generations by prohibiting minors from attending church services and pursuing study of the faith. Churches are also not allowed to encourage minors to pursue careers as Christian clergy.

In Hong Kong, home to over 1 million Christians, many of the protestors in support of the city's autonomy are Christian, and Beijing views them as a threat. The demonstrators' most prominent supporter—newspaper and fashion mogul Jimmy Lai—is a practicing Catholic and was holding a Bible when he was rearrested on December 31 on charges of national security violations and fraud.

Concerning China's Uighur Muslim community, Beijing's attempts to suppress and ultimately eradicate the Islamic faith from its territory are terrifying in their scope. China's extensive system of internment camps—believed by some analysts to be the largest network of detention centers in existence today—detains an estimated 2 million Uighurs, or just over 11 percent of China's Uighur population, according to reports.

Uighur protest
Supporters of China's Muslim Uighur minority wave flags of East Turkestan and hold placards as they gather at the Beyazid square on October 1, 2020 during a demonstration to protest China's Uighur treatment in Istanbul. Ozan KOSE / AFP/Getty

Uighurs have also endured the bulldozing of mosques, forced quartering of government monitors in Uighur homes, marking of Uighur dwellings with QR codes to monitor families' activities and arbitrary detainment of Uighurs to reeducation camps that declare Muslim practices sinful.

Some of the more common techniques used against the Uighur detainees have included "patriotic training"; indoctrination; de-extremification; brainwashing; involuntary labor at sweatshops—which may be producing products for American consumers—and the forced consumption of pork and alcohol, all conducted under the threat of violence.

Other abuses have involved the systematic tracking, surveillance and arrests of Uighurs as well as forced sterilization of Uighur women and mandatory abortion aimed at slashing the birth rates of China's Muslim population.

Activists also claim that some Uighur detainees are being killed for the purposes of organ harvesting.

For the sake of human rights and equal treatment of peoples under international law, China must end its repressive Christian and Uighur policies. Advocates on this issue—the White House, the UN Human Rights Council and human rights NGOs—must speak out and bring added focus to these crimes taking place on Chinese soil.

President Xi has made clear that he plays hardball and plays for keeps in pursuit of what he identifies as key national interests.

Candlelit vigils alone won't change policies, though they can inspire hearts. So can social media campaigns, especially if American cultural and sports figures express their solidarity for the basic human dignity of religious Christians and Muslims in China.

But to ensure that Beijing will at least reconsider its draconian measures, part of the effort should involve the next Olympic Winter Games, scheduled to take place in Beijing in February 2022. While the Olympics are a promotion of global peace and unity, the CCP's abuses of Chinese Christians and Uighurs make a mockery of the International Olympic Committee's stated ideals of building a peaceful, better world.

The CCP's egregious behavior demands a rethink on the part of the Olympic committee, and the global community as a whole, as to whether the 2022 Winter Games should be held in Beijing absent a major course correction from the regime. The world should not compromise on key human rights issues involving the widespread detention of Uighurs and increasingly aggressive measures to bring China's 60 million Christians to heel.

The international community must consider what the ultimate price will be if societies built upon universal ideals and the rule of law acquiesce to the CCP's power and wealth as Beijing bullies the world into silence while crushing religious freedom. As it projects its immense power outwardly, Beijing will likely decide that there are no red lines—at home or abroad—that it will not cross.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rev. Johnnie Moore is the President of the Congress of Christian Leaders and a Commissioner on the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom. Ted Gover, Ph.D., is the Director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.