China: Pence, Pompeo ‘Collude with Heretics’ on Religious Freedom Fight

Newly confirmed CIA director Mike Pompeo (L) listens to US Vice President Mike Pence before being sworn in in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office at the Eisonhower Executive Office Building on January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday of “colluding with heretics” by granting a platform to victims of religious persecution in China.

Spokesman Geng Shuang was responding to the officials’ respective speeches at the State Department’s Religious Freedom Ministerial this week, a three-day event to discuss how to best preserve freedom of worship around the world and combat noxious authoritarian actors that persecute religious minorities. Much of the energy at the event was directed towards the Chinese Communist Party, which under its current leader Xi Jinping has launched a nationwide campaign to “sinicize,” or make “Chinese,” the five legal religions in the country and outlaw any other worship.

“China firmly opposes the US’ slandering of China’s religious policies and interference in China’s domestic affairs,” Geng said on Friday, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper. “What Pence and Pompeo said is hypocritical. They collude with heretics, which once again exposes a sordid and hypocritical face.”

“For these people, religious freedom is an excuse and a tool for them to slander other countries, to destroy their religious peace and to interfere with their domestic affairs,” the spokesman reportedly continued. “We urge the US to abide by the truth, abandon bias, take an objective attitude on China’s religious situation and policies, and stop using religious affairs to interfere with other countries’ domestic affairs.”

Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, and “Christianity” (the Protestant “patriotic” church) are the only legal religions in China. The Communist Party has co-opted the leadership of every religion and launched violent campaigns against believers who choose to worship independently or those who participate in outlawed spiritual practices like Falun Gong.

In Xinjiang province, the westernmost region of the country that borders Afghanistan, Beijing has constructed thousands of concentration camps to house Muslims, who are the majority in the region. Most are ethnic Uighurs, though Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslims have also testified to being imprisoned in the camps. Authorities force the Muslims to eat meat, worship Xi Jinping, memorize Communist Party anthems, and learn Mandarin in the camps. Journalists and humanitarian groups have unearthed evidence of torture, starvation, murder, rape, slavery and organ harvesting at the camps.

As many as 3 million people, or about one out of three people in Xinjiang, are currently languishing in a concentration camp, according to Randall Schriver, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

The Chinese regime refers to the camps as “vocational centers” where Muslims learn “skills” necessary to integrate into the modern Chinese economy.

During his speech Thursday, Pence accused China of attempting to “strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith” by imposing “around-the-clock brainwashing” in the concentration camps. He listed Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians of all ethnicities as particularly vulnerable to persecution in the country. He warned authorities that “faith is breaking out all across China.”

“Chinese authorities may ban the construction of Christian churches, but that hasn’t prevented China from building more Christian churches than any other country in the world,” Pence noted.

Pompeo issued a similarly striking rebuke of Communist Party religious policy.

“In China, the Chinese Communist Party demands control over the lives of the Chinese people and their souls,” he said in his remarks Thursday. “Chinese Government officials have even discouraged other countries from attending this very gathering.”

Pompeo called the Xinjiang camps “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and “truly the stain of the century.”

President Donald Trump met with a group of victims of global religious persecution in the Oval Office Thursday that included the daughter of an imprisoned Uighur scholar, the nephew of a Tibetan Buddhist prisoner who died in Chinese custody and a Falun Gong practitioner whose husband remains a political prisoner.

“Americans will never tire in our efforts to defend and promote religious freedom,” Trump said. “I don’t think any president’s taken it as seriously as me.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted with similar ire to Trump taking personal note of the suffering of China’s victims.

“I have to point out that the remarks by those people [the persecuted] are seriously wrong. There is no so-called religious persecution in China at all. The Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief in accordance with law,” spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday.

“Those the US invited to the so-called religious meeting include a member of the Falun Gong cult and some other people who have been smearing China’s religious policy. They were even arranged to meet with the US leader. This is a sheer interference in China’s internal affairs,” Lu protested. “We deplore and strongly oppose that. We urge the US to view China’s religious policies and freedom of religious belief in an unbiased manner. It should stop using religion as a pretext to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”

China’s Communist Party leader at the time, Jiang Zemin, declared the Falun Gong spiritual movement an “evil cult” in 2001. The Buddhism-based movement preaches three main principles – truthfulness, compassion, forbearance – and encourages meditation and exercise. The Communist regime has long feared its overwhelming popularity, particularly among the Han ethnic minority, and its encouragement to members to distance themselves from the political and earthly and instead look within. Evidence has existed for decades that Beijing has imprisoned and killed Falun Gong practitioners to sell their live organs to willing buyers, creating a multi-million-dollar industry.

A recently published report revealed evidence that China has moved on from the Falun Gong practitioners and prepared its Uighur population for live organ harvesting. The report, published by a nonpartisan international tribunal in London, found evidence to bring the Chinese government to trial for “crimes against humanity” in an international court.

“They harvest prisoners’ organs for sale,” Jewher Ilhan, the Uighur activist who met with President Trump, said on Wednesday during her remarks at the ministerial. “At the airport, there is now a fast track security lane for organs to pass. That’s how common this is.”

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