The CCP intensifies crackdowns on overseas religious groups in China; believers not allowed to have contacts with foreigners or even watch TV programs from abroad.
by Wang Anyang
A believer from Tonghua city in the northeastern province of Jilin was talking to a pastor from a state-sanctioned Three-Self church in June and casually mentioned that South Koreans funded the construction of the new church she attends. To her surprise, the pastor became very anxious and told her not to mention again in public that the church has any links with South Korea. “He told me that in China, you have to say that it’s a Chinese church. If the government finds out that South Koreans built the church, it will be sealed off, and we won’t be able to hold gatherings,” the woman recounted her conversation with the pastor.
The pastor’s apprehension is understandable. As part of the nationwide campaign to crack down on religious groups with foreign ties, operations to suppress them (especially South Korean Christianity) are in full swing throughout Jilin Province. The Plan for Jointly Investigating Religious Infiltration Activities, issued by a municipality in Jilin this April, calls to scrutinize religious meeting venues with ties to abroad, monitor missionaries’ daily and online activities in China, and investigate if places of worship have any connection to foreign countries.
On July 4, government officials in Dongfeng county of Liaoyuan, a city bordering Tonghua, held a meeting about the suppression of “foreign religious infiltration” from the United States and South Korea. More than 700 personnel – including officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau and the United Front Work Department, as well as CCP secretaries from each township and village – attended the meeting to coordinate the crackdown operation.
Foreign-related religious groups in other provinces are also severely suppressed. On June 17, a Chinese pastor at a branch of the South Korea-based Sungrak Church (literally “Sacred Music Church”) in the northeastern province of Liaoning was arrested and interrogated. The police repeatedly asked him whether the church accepted money from South Korea and also pressured for information about the church’s members. In the end, he was released after the police forced him to write a statement promising not to hold gatherings anymore.
The Chinese headquarters of Sungrak Church is located in Harbin city of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. On December 8, 2017, the police raided the church when the congregation was holding an inaugural ceremony in the newly-built place of worship. Over ten pastors were arrested; including four from South Korea, who were deported afterward and forbidden from entering China for five years. Last year, the church’s headquarters was raided once again. The podium and other facilities inside the church were smashed, and the church was sealed off.
Sungrak Church is among the primary targets of suppression, according to the Work Plan of the Special Operation to Investigate and Deal with Overseas Christian Infiltration According to Law, jointly issued by the United Front Work Department and the Ministry of Public Security earlier this year. The document also mentions that the drive against foreign religious groups is executed based on a series of directives by President Xi Jinping, calling to put a stop to overseas forces “infiltrating China using religion.” “Never allow foreign religious forces to form a system within our country; never allow the formation of anti-Party and anti-government forces in the religious field,” the edict quotes President Xi.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also among the targeted groups. In mid-May, the police in a city of the southeastern province of Jiangxi raided an apartment rented by a South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses missionary. The woman’s passport was seized, religious books and a tablet computer confiscated. The missionary and a local Jehovah’s Witness were taken to the city’s State Security Bureau for interrogation.
A police officer told the believers that under Chinese law, foreigners aren’t allowed to preach in China. The police also questioned the Chinese believer about how she came to know the foreign missionary and was she in contact with other people from abroad. She was warned not to spread the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings and prohibited from having contacts with foreigners under the pretext of “guarding against spies.”
The two women were released after seven hours. The missionary was deported to South Korea on May 16. Another missionary left China herself after learning about the ordeal of her fellow believer.
The CCP is seizing every opportunity to guard against “foreign infiltration.” Even personal satellite TV antennae (commonly known as “small pot lids” in China) that can broadcast foreign channels are being forcibly dismantled, preventing people from viewing religious programs from abroad.
The cities of Gongzhuling, Da’an, and Songyuan in Jilin Province recently issued orders, demanding residents and proprietors in their jurisdictions to dismantle such satellite equipment and threatened to impose a fine of 5,000 RMB (about $ 700) on anyone who didn’t comply.