China’s War on Christians Spreads to Hong Kong
Sen. Marco Rubio warns of the Chinese Communist Party's campaign to co-opt religious authorities and, eventually, stamp out faith for good.
The free world has rightly reacted in horror to Beijing’s sweeping campaign to crush political freedom in Hong Kong, particularly since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed its draconian National Security Law (NSL) on Hong Kong last summer.
Wielding the NSL as an all-purpose weapon, the CCP has effectively eliminated nearly every right guaranteed in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, which until recently protected freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, and more. It has also protected the right to practice one’s faith freely, guaranteeing that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of conscience… freedom of religious belief and freedom to preach and to conduct and participate in religious activities in public.”
Overturning Religious Freedom
Now, the CCP is beginning to overturn religious freedom by using the NSL’s provision against “collusion with foreign forces” as a pretext. This crackdown mirrors its actions in mainland China, where Xi Jinping’s CCP has been merciless in its repression of people of faith. The CCP also continues to wage its brutal war against Tibetans, Uyghurs and others. Official regulations of religion require that “religious personnel and religious citizens support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.” Xi fears Christianity in part because of the religion’s extraordinary growth in China.
Like all communist regimes, the CCP promotes atheism and contempt for religion. Beijing fears Christianity’s spread because the CCP rightly recognizes that the Gospel is irreconcilably at odds with totalitarianism. Faith acknowledges a higher authority than the party-state, and the CCP does not tolerate competing sources of authority inside the PRC, and increasingly, outside of it as well. In Hong Kong, Beijing knows that Christianity is a factor that fuels many Hong Kongers’ desire for freedom.
Negotiating with the CCP?
And yet, in the face of the ongoing crackdown and against all precedent, past and present, some religious authorities still believe they can carve out deals with the CCP to protect their communities.
The Vatican has worked with Beijing to seek compromise on a long-running dispute over the appointment of bishops in the mainland. However, the provisional agreement has not succeeded in helping unregistered churches that refuse to accept CCP control of their congregations. Nor has it stopped the CCP from detaining priests or tearing down crosses on churches.
Worse, the agreement has now failed to prevent the spread of CCP interference in the appointment of bishops to Hong Kong, which has been without one for two years. Press reports indicate that the prolonged gap is due to Beijing seeking to influence the selection.
Repression on the Ground
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is deteriorating for those actually trying to live out their faith.
In May 2020, Chinese security agents detained two Catholic nuns from Hong Kong while they were visiting relatives in Hebei province. Authorities held them for three weeks without charges before finally releasing them into house arrest, where they remain, forbidden to return to the city. Also, Chinese security agents since then have reportedly increased surveillance of the Vatican’s mission in Hong Kong.
Three months later, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, which has a history of criticizing the CCP’s human rights record, was forced by the diocese itself to cancel plans to publish a prayer for democracy in local newspapers.
In December, police raided multiple facilities of the Good Neighbor North District Church and arrested two staff members just hours after Pastor Roy Chan dared to question HSBC for freezing the bank accounts of his church and family. Pastor Chan founded Protect the Children, a group that aided young demonstrators when Beijing began its crackdown.
Implications for the Hong Kong Diocese
The Vatican has been quiet on the campaign of repression. Cardinal Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, previously warned that “[t]he resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization. Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”
Cardinal Zen had long warned of a coming crackdown in Hong Kong and predicted it would eventually result in the Hong Kong Diocese, which had enjoyed relative freedom, being subjected to the same restrictions that Catholics face in China.
After the NSL came into effect last year, Zen said, “we are already in that situation.” He unfortunately sees no prospect of improvement for the Hong Kong church coming out of Vatican negotiations with the CCP, asking, “Is there any choice between helping the government to destroy the Church or resisting the government to keep our faith?”
A Forecast for the Future
The right to freely worship and live out one’s faith according to one’s conscience is sacred and fundamental to what it means to live with dignity. Whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, a practitioner of Falun Gong, or an atheist, all should be horrified by the CCP’s campaign to co-opt religious authorities and, eventually, stamp out faith for good. It forecasts the future for us all, believers and non-believers, if the CCP’s power and global influence are left unchecked.
Sen. Marco Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida.