Pence meets with Russell Moore, religious freedom advocates to discuss China's abuses

Vice President Mike Pence poses for a picture with advocates involved in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable during a meeting on China's religious freedom abuses on Aug. 5, 2019. | White House

Vice President Mike Pence met with an interfaith coalition of religious freedom advocates Monday that included Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore to discuss what the United States can do to hold China to account as it continues to persecute and abuse religious believers of all stripes.

At the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., Pence and other administration officials met for about an hour with about 10 to 15 advocates from various faith backgrounds assembled by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.

Among the attendees was Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Bob Fu, head of the Christain persecution watchdog organization China Aid; David Curry, head of the international Christian persecution advocacy group Open Doors USA; and Greg Mitchell, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable and longtime lobbyist for the Church of Scientology.

Joining Pence from the Donald Trump administration was U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and members of the National Security Council.

"There were a handful of leaders from the world dealing with religious liberty who voiced concern about the shocking rise of religious liberty violations in China in the last six years," Curry, whose organization works in dozens of countries and produces an annual list of top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution, told The Christian Post.

"We had people from different faith backgrounds but we joined together to give an in-depth briefing on the series of issues that are happening against Christians, Muslims, the Falun Gong and other religions that are being persecuted in China right now."

Fu tweeted out his thanks to Pence for meeting with the coalition.

"The resolve and courage you & @realDonaldTrump have shown to tackle the [Communist Party of China] regime on trade and freedom related issues are unparalleled," Fu tweetedMonday afternoon. "Thx 4 hearing us. Time 2 take actions."

As China has consistently been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a "country of particular concern" for the past 20 years, Curry urged the administration to consider new sanctions related to the religious liberty violations.

Along with shutting down underground churches and imprisoning Christian believers, the Chinese communist government has displayed a strong animosity toward believers of all faiths.

China is said to have imprisoned between 1 million to 3 million Uighur and Kazakh Muslims in concentration camps in Western China, where they are brainwashed to act more culturally Chinese.

The Chinese government has also cracked down on Falun Gong practitioners, sending many in that community to labor camps. Survivors have recalled suffering torture and sleep deprivation at these camps.

China has also long been called out for its persecution and forced assimilation of the Tibetan Buddhist community.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has been very vocal in condemning China's abuses against faith communities. Earlier this year, Brownback said during a speech in Hong Kong that the Chinese government is "at war with faith."

Although the Trump administration has been vocal, the leaders in attendance Monday are calling for stronger action to be taken.

"Up until this point, the United States never had a strategy against China's violations of human rights," Curry said. "They've recognized them as a country particular concern, but it's not escalated. And there haven't been any punishments directly associated with it. So we think that might be something they would consider, as far as punishments go."

When asked what kind of punishment he would like to see, Curry said that it is up to the administration to decide. Curry said that the group talked specifically about taking actions against key leaders and against the country as a whole.

"We just talked about the severity of the problem and range of recommendations," he explained.

Fu shared a list of Chinese government leaders responsible for the human rights abuses committed against the Muslims in Western China. The top of that list is Chen Quanguo, the communist party secretary in the Xinjiang province who previously held the party's top leadership position in Tibet.

At the State Department's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called for sanctions against Quanguo.

Curry told CP that he has been a part of similar meetings with top government officials in Washington in the past to voice concerns about Iraq and the Islamic State. He said Monday marked the first meeting he has had with Pence related to China.

Open Doors USA ranks China as the 27th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on its 2019 World Watch List.

China Aid, as well as Open Doors, has warned that the Chinese Communist Party has adopted a policy of "sinicizing" Christianity so that the religion aligns with China's secular ideals.

Over the last several years, dozens, if not hundreds, of Christians have been arrested for their affiliation with non-state-sanctioned underground house churches.

On Monday, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Commissioner Gary Bauer, a longtime social conservative activist, called for the release of an imprisoned underground church leader and religious freedom advocate Hu Shigen.

Hu disappeared in July 2015 as part of a crackdown on human rights activists and lawyers. In August 2016, Hu was convicted in a court of the crime of "subversion of state power."

"China's persecution of Christian house churches is a stain on its international reputation," Bauer said in a statement. "China may strive to be a leading economic power, but the world cannot forget the government's deplorable treatment of religious believers and peaceful advocates within its borders. Hu Shigen simply called on the Chinese government to let Christians practice their religious beliefs without interference. It's time for China to drop the unjust charges against Hu and to release him."

At the State Department ministerial last week, a number of Chinese victims of persecution — one Uigur, one Falon Gong, one Christian, and one Tibetan Buddhist — advocated for the release of their loved ones.

Along with survivors of persecution from other parts of the world, they met with President Trump at the White House.

Courtesy of The Christian Post