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China uses Covid-19 to ratchet up religious oppression

Events in Tibet and Xinjiang were a precursor to a renewed campiagn against Christianity

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China uses Covid-19 to ratchet up religious oppression

Exiled Tibetan Buddhists celebrate next to a photograph of the Dalai Lama to mark the third day of the Tibetan New Year in Nepal capital Kathmandu on Feb. 26. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)

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There are already clear signs that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is leveraging the Covid-19 crisis to increase repression and cultural destruction in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Christianity is also in its sights and it’s highly likely that underground/house churches will be the key focus of a fresh round of repression that will take advantage of the blanket ban on all worship that was enacted in February as China was locked down.

On May 1, controversial new regulations on “ethnic unity” came into effect in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region” were adopted by the TAR’s People’s Congress on Jan. 11. The TAR spans about half of traditional Tibet, a historically independent country that China has brutally occupied for more than 60 years.

“The regulations explicitly depart from the principle of ‘preferential treatment’ for Tibetans, which was supposed to guarantee that Tibetans could maintain their culture and traditional way of life in their own homeland,” the International Campaign for Tibet noted.

“In contrast, the new regulations give the Chinese government powers to enforce a Chinese-centric way of life in the TAR and to cultivate informants for the Chinese Communist Party. As the effects of stated policies of preferential treatment have been negligible, the new regulations give additional reason for concern, as they may contribute to an exacerbation of a discriminatory treatment of Tibetans that is already in place.”

Tibet has for decades been something of a testing ground for the CCP’s toughest repression. It is where it honed its programs of both cultural genocide and religious repression; Tibetan Buddhism is banned in the rest of China and the officially atheist CCP has, famously and without any realization of the irony, taken it upon itself to determine the reincarnations of senior lamas.

It’s well documented that repression and cultural dismantling techniques developed and honed by the party in Tibet have been exported to Xinjiang, the sprawling northwestern province that, like Tibet, was largely annexed by the CPP in the years after it seized power in the bloody civil war that concluded in 1949.

In the past decades two Tibet CCP secretaries — have been moved onto Xinjiang, including incumbent Chen Quanguo, who was party secretary in Tibet from 2001 until being shifted to Xinjiang in August 2016. Since then, Chen has presided over the construction of scores of concentration camps officially known as re-education camps that human rights groups have estimated are home to more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities.

Leaked internal documents from the Chinese government detailed the vast extent of the program and subsequent interviews with camp survivors revealed oppressive prison-like conditions and brainwashing programs designed to attack the Muslim faith.

Earlier this year reports emerged of Uyghurs who had “graduated” from the camps being “sold” to businesses for work in factories far away from their homes under heavy security. This practice was continued during the coronavirus crisis, which has been largely tamed in China.

So it’s no surprise that the CCP has continued its unconscionable cultural desecration of the Muslim Uyghur community in Xinjiang during the pandemic. It is a long-term project designed using a sledgehammer approach that is designed to quell any terrorist activity.

Yet history shows us that its end result may well be quite the opposite.

Chinese authorities have also used Xinjiang and the Uyghur camps to test and perfect a range of surveillance technologies including retina scans, DNA databases and facial recognition technology. These are modern-day updates to earlier surveillance technologies like Soviet internal passports, though it’s worth bearing in mind that Great Britain pioneered concentration camps in South Africa during and after the Boer War.

While the Covid crisis has allowed Beijing to continue its oppressive, sometime murderous activities in Tibet and Xinjiang with far less scrutiny from a world almost completely distracted by the virus and its spread, it has also provided an opportunity for its overall program of religious repression.

A key element has been the closing of all places of worship during the coronavirus crisis, something that must have been a bit like winning the jackpot for the CCP’s United Front Work Department and its repressive religious regulations.

Already that ban has been extended until the end of May, along with Marian pilgrimages, during what is traditionally the month devoted to remembrance of Mary.

There are already reports, too, of the long-term Beijing sanctions program of cross removals commencing again — and it's certain that church demolitions will naturally follow.

It is only early days but it’s safe to bet that the CPP will hew to the old political adage to “never waste a good crisis,” much to the detriment of Christians and other religious believers in China. The only real question is how bad things will get.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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