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07/14/2023 Indonesia (International Christian Concern) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Wang Yi, the county’s seniormost diplomat and former Foreign Minister, met on the sidelines of this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meeting. Secretary Blinken visited Beijing in June, and Janet Yellen returned from a visit to China just last week, a series of meetings designed to open communication between the countries as tensions rise over economic competition, China’s support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and human rights concerns. 

Though neither country is a member of ASEAN, they have engaged the regional bloc for decades. A dialogue partner since 1977, the U.S. appointed an ambassador to ASEAN in 2008 and established a dedicated mission to ASEAN in 2011, the first non-member state to do so. China, which exercises significant influence in the region, was invited as a dialogue partner in 1996 and has engaged regularly. 

Blinken’s first trip abroad as Secretary of State was to Japan and South Korea, stalwart U.S. allies and major partners in the effort to counter Chinese hegemony in the region. In a Washington Post op-ed coauthored with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and published shortly before his trip, Blinken explained that the trip was intended to send a message to China that the United States and its allies in the region will be unified in pushing back against China’s aggression, both internationally and against its people. 

“It is strongly in our interests for the Indo-Pacific region to be free and open, anchored by respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” Blinken and Austin wrote in the Washington Post piece. “Together we will hold China accountable when it abuses human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, systematically erodes autonomy in Hong Kong, [or] undercuts democracy in Taiwan.” 

The Chinese Communist Party takes a hostile stance against religion and persecutes groups attempting to practice their faith outside the strict confines of the Chinese government. Authorities regularly harass and shut down unregistered Christian gatherings, called house churches, arresting leaders and threatening those who wish to practice their faith freely. 

China has a long history of repressing religious expression inside and outside its borders. Over the last several decades, it has been known to have forced abortions on its citizens, sterilized women without their consent, and murdered religious minorities to sell their organs on the black market. Christian home churches are an attempt to escape government scrutiny, but even they are often raided and their members arrested on charges of working against the state’s interests. 

China operates a concentrated campaign of persecution against its Muslim-majority Uyghur population. The recent genocide designation comes after government and civil society organizations’ detailed research documenting a vast network of concentration camps throughout the Xinjiang region used to oppress and indoctrinate Uyghur prisoners of conscience. 

China has even reached beyond its borders to suppress religion and silence opposition. Afghanistan recently discovered a Chinese spy ring operating out of Kabul. The ring worked with the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated terrorist group, to hunt down Uyghurs and bring them back to China. China also recently stepped up its efforts to capture religious minorities through the more traditional route of formal extradition requests. 

China has come under harsh condemnation from human rights groups and governments worldwide for its repression of political dissent and religious expression in Hong Kong, which it reestablished control over in the summer of 2020. 

The international community has a vested interest in ensuring that human rights, including the right to religious freedom, are respected in every country. No government should be allowed to trample the rights of its citizens with impunity, and when a government does not allow its people to speak up, it is the rest of the world’s responsibility to speak up for them. 

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