It will not surprise colleagues or the Minister that I want to focus on issues of human rights, persecution and freedom of religion or belief. I agree that we should reach out with a hand of friendship to China, but a true friend does not flinch from telling another what might be unpalatable truths. I welcome the assurances from the Foreign Secretary on
“raise those concerns with China at every opportunity.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 916.]
However, I am concerned that that is simply not enough.
In June 2016, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which I have the privilege to chair, launched a report on human rights in China entitled, “The Darkest Moment: China’s Crackdown on Human Rights, 2013-16”. At the launch, an MP who knows China well expressed agreement with all our findings. His one criticism was with the title. It was, he said, premature: “It will get even darker.” From what I have observed over the past three years, he was right.
Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom published its 20th annual report. It is an independent, bipartisan, US federal Government commission. It monitors the implementation of the right to freedom of religion or belief around the world in accordance with international law standards, and it makes policy recommendations to the US Government.
In its 2019 report, it identifies the ever-deteriorating situation of different religious groups in China. I will mention a few of its findings. First, the Chinese Government continues to take steps
which not only diminishes or prevents the right to freedom of religion from being in anyway meaningful, but is also erasing
“the cultural and linguistic heritage of religious and ethnic communities”.
The groups mentioned as particularly affected are the Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, about whom we have already heard today.
Secondly, in the summer of 2018, reports emerged that the Chinese Government were detaining hundreds of thousands, possibly up to 2 million Uyghur and other Muslims in Xinjiang, in so-called re-education camps, allegedly to address the issue of extremism. Continuing reports come from those camps of abuse, primitive living conditions and disappearances.
Thirdly, it reports that more than 900 Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in 2018 simply for practising their beliefs or distributing literature about Falun Gong. The Government have also raided or closed down hundreds of Protestant house churches, including Zion church, Rongguili church and the Early Rain Covenant church. I will go into a little more detail about this, if I may.
Churches are being destroyed. Christians are being arrested, imprisoned and tortured. Members of the family are under surveillance, Christians are forced to deny their faith and young pupils in schools are investigated for their religious backgrounds. In the case of the Early Rain Covenant church in the city of Chengdu, police arrested more than 100 of its members in December 2018, including the pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife, Jiang Rong. They are being charged for inciting subversion, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. A statement signed by 500 house church leaders says authorities have removed crosses from buildings, forced churches to hang Chinese flags and sing patriotic songs, and barred minors from attending. Indeed, one of the most disturbing issues in recent developments is that the Chinese regulations on religious affairs, which were implemented last year, banned five categories of people from attending church, including children under 18.
I know I have said some of this before, but I was interested to hear the Bishop of Truro being interviewed on Radio 4 on Sunday. He has just issued his interim report on the persecution of Christians worldwide—the interim report of the inquiry instituted by the Foreign Secretary himself—and has said that he is shocked by the scale, scope and severity of the persecution of some 250 million Christians worldwide. Almost 100 million are in China, and one of the things that I was interested in was that he said, “A lot of this has been out there, but it’s not really being heard.” That is why we have to keep repeating these issues.
“Last year’s crackdown”— on Christians—
“is the worst in three decades.”
The pastor of Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, Huang Xiaoning, said:
The tragedy is that the authorities in China now see faith as a threat to their authority.
Those statistics are just the tip of an iceberg of issues that are identified in the report I have mentioned, and which are happening all over China. Many Members of this House will be aware of the Open Doors organisation, which produces a watch list of persecution across the world. It rates countries according to the level of persecution. In the 2019 list, which was launched in January, China jumped from 43rd place in 2018 to 27th. Bearing in mind what I have just said, I do not believe that that will change. If anything, I think China will make its way closer to the top of the list.
Open Doors emphasises the Chinese Government’s plans to contextualise the Bible to make it more culturally acceptable—in other words, to rewrite it. However, the Bible is a sacred text. We hear of Christian preachers who are being required to adapt their texts to include the core values of socialism, and to have their sermons pre-checked by the authorities before they deliver them. Facial recognition cameras are being placed in front of pulpits so that the authorities can check on who is attending services and ensure that no one from the five forbidden categories is there.
In October 2018, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China counted at least 1,422 prisoners of conscience in Chinese prisons, which does not include the mass detention of the Muslims in Xinjiang. The violations of human dignity that are involved in mass surveillance in China should cause us real concern. Apparently, 13 million Uyghurs are being monitored and watched in Xinjiang, often by smartphone technology and facial recognition cameras, as I have mentioned. An app is used by police to assess China’s integrated joint operations platform, or IJOP, which is a mass surveillance database gathering information from checkpoints on the street and in gas stations, schools and workplaces. It monitors individuals’ every action and triggers alerts to the authorities. Some of this very sophisticated intelligence can actually monitor the facial traits of categories of people such as the Uyghur Muslims.
A recent data leak from Chinese police contractor SenseNets revealed that the IJOP app had collected almost 6.7 million GPS co-ordinates in a 24-hour period, tracing 2.6 million people, mainly in Xinjiang. We hear that China has plans to have 400 million CCTV cameras in place across the country by the end of 2020. Is it not reasonable that we have concerns about Huawei and what it proposes to do by using its technology in the UK?