We know that China is notorious for its horrendous human rights track record. The treatment of Chinese people who put their faith in something other than the state is particularly heinous.
For years we’ve heard about China’s treatment of Christians, and now we’re hearing that the country has detained between one and two million Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, with millions more in danger of detention.
“If right now, just about any other country in the world was found to be detaining over 1 million Muslims of a certain ethnicity, you can bet we’d be seeing an international outcry,” says Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch.
“Because it’s China, which has enormous power in international institutions these days, it’s hard to muster any response at all.”
“There has been this almost childlike hope that as China gets wealthier and more secure it would change” and adapt to international norms, Richardson says. Instead, China is using its economic clout and influence at the UN to undermine those norms.
Human Rights Watch reports that the state is using an app to track the movements of Uighurs and mark even the most mundane actions as suspicious.
Corporations with interested in that part of China have said that they weren’t aware of the detention of Muslims, and China’s neighbors haven’t said much about it. Some Muslim nations and groups appear to be blind to the situation as well:
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation went so far as to praise China in March for “providing care to its Muslim citizens,” while in February Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman defended China’s “right” to crack down on its Muslim citizens “for its national security.”
Right now only the United States, Turkey, and the European Union have spoken out about the situation.
It’s one thing to look at what’s going on with the Uighur Muslims and not be too concerned, but given China’s track record, it’s hard not to wonder whether Christians are next. As China imprisons Christians who dare to speak out against the state and cracks down on churches that the government doesn’t approve, it’s not too much of a stretch to picture China rounding up Christians and detaining them. Still, the Christian church in China thrives in the face of persecution, as it has throughout history.
As Westerners who enjoy and even hold up the notion of freedom of worship, we should be concerned about what China is doing to its citizens, no matter their faith. When a nation like China is doing all it can to hold on to power – including targeting people of faith – we should speak out, especially as we see the seeds of government power targeting faith here in the United States.