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03/23/2021 China (International Christian Concern) – A scholar studying China has called for the Vatican to speak up about human rights abuses by the Chinese government, noting that dialogue between the Vatican and the Chinese government does not happen on equal terms. Fredrik Fällman, Associate Professor of Sinology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden has said that China should be treated like any other country and play by the same rules as others.

“The Catholic Church often comments on the situation in other countries” he said. “Yet in China, the Vatican keeps silent on many concerning developments – including structural religious persecution, labor rights issues, and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs. It seems Vatican officials are holding China to a different standard compared to other countries.”

Although the Vatican reached an agreement with the Chinese government in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in efforts to unite the state-run church and the underground church, Christians in China continue to be persecuted and harassed. The agreement was renewed in 2020 despite the lack of results the first time around.

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a campaign of Sinicization aimed at enforcing and bolstering Chinese and communist ideals and identity on all religious practice in the country. The campaign has included instructing churches to remove images of the Ten Commandments and replace them with sayings from Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping.

The Sinicization campaign even extends to Hong Kong, where religion has traditionally been relatively unregulated, most recently in the form of a “national security law” which entered into force last summer. Under the new law, a number of Catholics in Hong Kong have been arrested and charged with terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion.

New rules set to take effect in May 2021 violate the 2018 and 2020 Sino-Vatican agreements, tightening Beijing’s power over the Catholic church in China even further by making the state-run Catholic church responsible for selecting and approving episcopal candidates rather than the pope.

An international coalition needs to put pressure on China, Fällman concluded, stating that “true dialogue includes frank criticism and is the key to making real steps forward in relations with China.”

The Vatican’s silence on the mass detention and abuses of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang is also a problem, according to Cardinal Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong. Although the silence supposedly comes as a result of previous negotiations, it “will damage the work of evangelization” there in the future, he said. “Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].