Recently issued guidelines across China demand to intensify crackdowns on “foreign religious infiltration,” mainly targeting US-affiliated places of worship.
by Wang Anyang
The Education Bureau of a locality in northeast China launched a special crackdown campaign in April to suppress “foreign religious infiltration” in educational institutions. The drive targets explicitly US-based religious groups active in the area, such as the American Southern Baptist Mission and other organizations, in light of China’s trade war with the United States.
According to a Bureau-issued plan, the campaign seeks to implement President Xi Jinping’s “important instructions not to allow infiltration into our country through religion, not to allow foreign religious forces to develop a system in our country, and not to allow the formation of the forces against the Party and the government in religious fields.”
The document repeatedly underlines the threat imposed by religions on the CCP’s rule. It demands to improve capabilities to control religion, “consolidate the CCP’s ruling foundations,” improve teachers’ and students’ awareness in resisting religions and maintaining national unity and social stability, secure their ideological steadiness, and “consolidate schools’ socialist position.” Educational institutions are instructed to carry out comprehensive three-dimensional anti-religion propaganda using campus broadcasts, LED display boards, and social media, such as WeChat and QQ platforms.
Soon after the order was issued, investigations into the religious status of teachers and students were carried out.
Bitter Winter also obtained other confidential documents, ordering crackdowns on foreign-related churches, issued in other provinces in April as well. These documents list American and South Korean churches active in China, such as the Bethel Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, as key targets. Some decrees mention that China’s intelligence officers overseas should be employed to obtain relevant information on churches.
Foreign non-religious organizations are also targeted. One of the documents demands to surveil foreign teachers and strengthen the supervision and management of overseas students. It requires to step up investigations into foreign-related organizations, academic exchange, and other related activities, and, at the same time, intensify special crackdowns on non-governmental Christian organizations. State-run Christian activity venues are also to be investigated to find out if they use funds or other resources from abroad.
“After the coronavirus outbreak, China’s relations with the Western world deteriorated even more, which has resulted in harsher crackdowns on Christianity in the country,” a house church member commented about the situation on Christian groups in China. “For the CCP, acceptance of Western ideas means a threat to its regime.” In March, the CCP Committee of the northeastern province of Liaoning convened a conference to discuss “religious stability maintenance”—one of the priority tasks for 2020— which should be carried out “from the viewpoint of political safety.”