In an attempt to accelerate the eradication of the largest Chinese Christian new religious movement, the CCP coaxes officials and believers to become spies.
by Yang Xiangwen
Planting spies in churches has been a go-to tool by the CCP to suppress religious groups. The regime believes the information gathered by undercover agents is an excellent resource while preparing crackdowns against these churches, aimed at their complete elimination.
The Church of Almighty God (CAG) – the most persecuted religious movement in China – is one of the primary targets of this government plot. Bitter Winter has obtained internal documents adopted by governments of multiple provinces, including Henan, Zhejiang, and Shandong, that demand carrying out intelligence work within the CAG prior to coordinated crackdown against it. The edicts call for the establishment of groups of “secret forces capable of going deep into the Church and getting to its higher levels” to collect information about the CAG’s internal organization and its key members – both domestically and internationally.
The Church of Almighty God has been subjected to brutal crackdowns since its establishment in 1991. In 2018 alone, over 11,100 CAG members were arrested, and at least 20 were persecuted to death. In recent years, the CCP is using more targeted means, such as high-tech surveillance and rewards to informants to achieve its ultimate goal to eradicate the CAG.
Potential spies trained in undercover skills
A government employee from one of China’s coastal provinces revealed to Bitter Winter that National Security Brigade officials pressured him on several occasions to infiltrate the CAG and collect information from within. He was promised a good position in one of the local government institutions and financial rewards as an incentive. The officials explained that they were launching such covert operations because “the local government’s performance on suppressing the CAG falls far behind compared to other regions.”
“I was asked to do this because the officials found out that I know some CAG members,” the employee said, adding that he was expected to get “a thorough understanding of the inner workings of the Church.”
“The officials said that the CAG is their primary target, but that they had obtained little information about the Church,” he continued. They then taught him some skills needed for undercover agents. They told him to get the trust of CAG believers and pretend to show interest in their belief. He was also warned not to behave proactively during first contacts, not to ruin the initial bond so that he can manage to sneak into the inside of the CAG step by step.
The source added that the National Security Brigade had already obtained information about some CAG believers and could arrest them at any time. Since the ultimate goal is to eradicate the movement completely, such secret investigations are needed to accelerate the process. The officials disclosed that some agents had spent two to three years within the Church.
A source from the Public Security Bureau in a city in the northern province of Hebei confirmed to Bitter Winter that similar practices are routinely used across China. According to him, the government ordered each police station in his city to employ at least two additional special intelligence agents and two information officers just for the campaign to crack down on the CAG.
As per an internal government document obtained by Bitter Winter, local authorities should encourage police officers to arrest CAG members using reward and punishment mechanisms and establish arrest quotas for each public security officer.
Believers pressured to become agents
The previously arrested CAG members are also targeted by the police to make them spy on their fellow believers. A CAG believer who had been detained at a legal education center – one of the CCP’s “transformation through education” institutions – told Bitter Winter that National Security Brigade officials were trying to coerce him to return to the Church to act as their undercover agent. They promised to give him a monthly salary of 5,000 to 6,000 RMB (about $ 700 to 850) as a reward.
The believer refused and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and four years’ probation for “using a xie jiao organization to undermine law enforcement.”
During his probation time, national security personnel pressured him again to work for them undercover, threatening to imprison him should he not cooperate.
The CCP also uses undercover agents to infiltrate the CAG overseas. According to several internal documents that Bitter Winter has obtained, the regime conducts internal investigations to “actively dig out overseas resources” and “try all means for intelligence work on CAG organizations and key members abroad.” The State Security Bureau takes charge of such operations that have been carried out for the past two years. CAG members who had been taken into custody are also frequently coerced into spying on the Church overseas to collect information for the government.