West using Christianity to subvert Chinese state: Official
BEIJING: China is running boarding schools not concentration camps in the far western region of Xinjiang, its governor said yesterday, as the United States called conditions there “completely unacceptable”. China has faced growing international opprobrium for what it says are vocational training centers in Xinjiang, a vast region bordering central Asia that is home to millions of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities. Activists say there is a network of mass detention camps there holding more than a million people, part of a crackdown that Beijing says is needed to stem the threat of Islamist extremism.
The US government has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, including on the Communist Party boss there, Chen Quanguo, who as a member of the powerful politburo is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership. Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir, the region’s most senior Uighur official who ranks below Chen, said that there had not been any violent attacks in more than two years and three months since the government adopted “a series of measures” to combat terror and extremism.
“Some international voices say Xinjiang has concentration camps and re-education camps,” Shohrat Zakir told a briefing on the sidelines of China’s annual largely rubberstamp parliament. “These kinds of statements are completely fabricated lies, and are extraordinarily absurd,” he said. “They are the same as boarding schools,” he said, adding that the personal freedoms of the “students” were guaranteed. Chen, who attended what was one of the most eagerly anticipated briefings of China’s parliamentary session by foreign media, did not answer questions on the camps.
In an 18-minute-long reply to a journalist’s question, Zakir defended the centers, saying that they taught Xinjiang residents Chinese, helped them gain awareness of the law, improved vocational skills, and were vital in the region’s fight against extremism. “When (students) are able to distinguish between right and wrong and able to resist the infiltration of extreme thoughts… they have a strong desire to get rid of poverty and get rich, actively pursuing a better life,” he added.
Former detainees, however, have described to Reuters being tortured during interrogation at the camps, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide. Some of the sprawling facilities in the region are ringed with razor wire and watch towers. US officials have said China has made criminal many aspects of religious practice and culture in Xinjiang, including punishment for teaching Muslim texts to children and bans on parents giving their children Uighur names.
Academics and journalists have documented grid-style police checkpoints across Xinjiang and mass DNA collection, and human rights advocates have decried martial law-type conditions there. Chen made his mark swiftly after taking the top post in Xinjiang in 2016, with mass “anti-terror” rallies conducted in the region’s largest cities involving tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is seeking access to China to verify continuing reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang. US ambassador for religious freedom Sam Brownback, speaking from Taipei on a teleconference call with reporters, said the situation in Xinjiang was “completely unacceptable” and that sanctions against Chinese officials under the Global Magnitsky Act remained a “possibility”.
That act is a federal law that allows the US government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any US assets, US travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them. Brownback added that dialogue between Washington and Beijing on the issue had made little headway thus far, calling discussions “more of a dual monologue”.
“The monologue back from China initially was that they denied the (detention camps) even existed and then the statement was that these are vocational training facilities which the people are appreciative of, which we just don’t agree with,” he said. China has warned that it would retaliate “in proportion” against any US sanctions.
Meanwhile, a Chinese official accused “anti-China forces” in the West of using Christianity to subvert the country’s political power and said worshippers must follow a Chinese form of religion. China’s officially atheist government, which oversees religious groups through state-sponsored institutions, has tightened its grip on all faiths in recent years.
“Anti-China forces in the West are attempting to continue to influence the social stability of our country through Christianity, and even subvert the political power of our country,” Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the state-backed National Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee, which oversees the Protestant churches, said on Monday.
Speaking at the annual gathering of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a largely ceremonial advisory body, Xu described the introduction of Christianity in China as “accompanying the intense colonial aggression by the West”. Only by incorporating Chinese culture into Christianity would the religion become something Chinese people could identify with, said Xu. For those who “subvert national security in the name of Christianity, we support the country in bringing them to justice,” he added.
His remarks come days after Brownback said the Chinese government was “at war with faith”, persecuting Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and Falungong practitioners. In China, Protestants are split between unofficial and state-sanctioned churches, where Communist Party songs also feature in the order of service. Over the past year, unofficial “house” or “underground” churches have faced increasing pressure, with some church members detained under subversion charges.
In December, the pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church, a prominent unofficial Protestant congregation in southwest Sichuan province, was detained in a police raid under charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to the church. In September, Beijing officials also shut down Zion Church, one of China’s largest unofficial Protestant churches, for operating without a license in the capital – before ordering it to pay back 1.2 million yuan ($170,000) in rent and removal costs. – Agencies