Has China given birth to a monster?
The new National Security Agency could spell disaster for many, Church included
A guard outside the Third Plenum venue tries to stop photographs being taken (AFP photo/Mark Ralston)
The Third Plenum of the 18th Party Central Committee, which ended on November 12, attracted international headlines for the relaxation of the country’s one-child policy.
But something that should have received more attention was a one-line announcement on the creation of a new National Security Council.
According to People's Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan in the People’s Daily, the Council will be led by the party leader and should be cross-departmental, including the military, security and police forces, as well as the departments in charge of foreign affairs and the economy.
This means that the party continues to control China and its people and is assigning all rights for the supervision of change, not to the government, but to the party’s ideological leaders.
In China, where the rule of law is incomplete, such a council could turn out to be a monstrous “Big Brother,” depending on who is in control of the party at the time.
It would be practically unaccountable and even more powerful than the feared and despised Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, which oversees all law enforcement authorities - the courts and the police force - and is routinely accused of abusing human rights.
But the creation of this National Security Council could perhaps have been foreseen. About two weeks before the party’s meeting a 92-minute documentary, produced by the National Defense University, leaked onto the internet.
It was later taken down. But in a country where everything is controlled - citizens need permission from their workplace for everything from marriage to childbirth - it could be assumed that this film, produced by a university closely linked to the Army and allegedly prepared for senior party officials, did not appear by accident.
The documentary, Silent Contest, expresses the views of some powerful groups and individuals in China. It describes the threats posed by “foreign powers” such as the United States, seeking to infiltrate China. It emphasizes the foreign powers’ strategy of “political genetic modification”.
Abandoning any reference to what used to be called “peaceful evolution,” the documentary focuses on the corruption of China’s culture and public processes by alien influences.
The film lists external infiltration in five categories: political, cultural, public opinion and ideology, organizational and social.
It also claims that the Western world has launched “secret missionary activities” in China, “introduced Western belief systems to Chinese society,” and there is a “clear objective of Western religious infiltration.”
Among the five recognized religions in China, party officials are more at ease with Chinese Buddhism and Taoism which are believed to be usually peaceful.
In late September, Reuters news agency quoted “sources close to President Xi Jinping” that he hoped traditional faiths would fill a moral void in China. The report added that President Xi was referring to Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.
As for the other three religions, Tibetan Buddhism and Islam are linked to territorial interests in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the documentary, Christianity – Catholic and Protestant – is seen as a “foreign religion,” which arouses the suspicions of party officials.
Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping were elected less than 24 hours apart last March. Some Catholic observers and scholars expressed the belief that it was time for both sides to put aside historic conflicts and turn a new page.
Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State in August. Some commentators believed the Holy See would revert to the China policy it had held before 2009 when Parolin was chief negotiator with the People’s Republic.
But now, after this Third Plenum, any optimism about a warming of relations between China and the Vatican – especially as there has been no noticeable improvement in the trust between the two sides - would seem to be premature.
Meanwhile, the fortunes of the local Church have not improved. While there has not been a recurrence of ordinations of bishops without Vatican approval, the harassment of clergy continues. In August, four unregistered priests were detained in Hebei; their whereabouts remain unknown.
In October, in Handan, again in Hebei, government and Vatican approved priests were placed under house arrest and taken for ‘re-education’ after they participated in a private episcopal ordination to avoid having another bishop, not approved by the Vatican, attend the ceremony.
The stakes are high, yet the life of the Catholic Church in China will be a subset of developments on the larger canvas of China’s direction. The fear is that China could slip back into the paranoid “Middle Kingdom” politics that have been evident throughout Chinese history, most recently during the Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s.
To avoid this, an approach other than that outlined at the Third Plenum is needed.
Joseph Wang is the pen name of a journalist based in Hong Kong.
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