China Religious Freedom

China “Number One Global Challenge to Religious Freedom” for Biden Administration

Kennedy Lee on February 9, 2021

Last week the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, focused its spotlight on what religious freedom priorities should look like for the new Biden Administration. Guest Knox Thames postulated the five greatest challenges to religious freedom in the world today, declaring that China, under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is “the first challenge to religious freedom” and “a category of its own.”

Thames, a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement and visiting expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, joined Dwight Bashir, USCIRF director of outreach and policy, in conversation. He was previously the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities at the U.S. State Department, serving for five years under both the Obama and Trump Administrations.

In assessing the five greatest challenges the new Biden Administration will face when it comes to religious freedom, Thames stated that the biggest challenges are China, mass atrocities, terrorism, state repression and authoritarianism, and the new challenge of democracies becoming problematic environments for religious minorities.

After asserting that China is the greatest challenge and its own category when it comes to infringing on the religious freedom of its citizens, Thames stated, “With what’s happening to Uighurs, Tibetans, independent Christians, Falun Gong, and also the way that they’re [the CCP] flexing their muscles internationally, it’s going to be a challenge for religious freedom promotion and human rights defense globally.”

Thames’s second greatest stated challenge, mass atrocities, includes the recent designation of genocide against the Uighur Muslims in China that former Secretary of State Pompeo made in his final days in office, which current Sec. Antony Blinken has endorsed. This category also includes the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The third category, terrorism, encompasses the targeting of Christians, Muslims, Yazidis, and other groups by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as the treatment of Christians by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Thames sees state repression and authoritarianism as the fourth greatest challenge to religious freedom globally, specifically in Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, North Korea, and Iran.

Lastly, Thames views the challenge of democracies that start to become problematic environments for religious minorities, such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, as a novel problem.

“This will be a tough one because governments are responding to voters, so it’ll take new strategies and approaches” by the United States and other global leaders on issues of religious freedom to see positive change in such situations, asserted Thames.

Despite the fact that close to two thirds of the global population live in countries with high or very high restrictions from government or societal actors on religious freedom, Thames insisted that “we should be encouraged because we’re seeing new networks of governments, parliamentarians, and civil society actors coming together to fight for religious freedom for everybody.” “This is a first. A first in human history.”

Thames cited the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, which brought together over 100 governments and 1,000 members of civil society to advance religious freedom globally.

“It was the biggest event ever in State Department history, all around this idea of how do we promote religious freedom,” reminded Thames.

As for the Biden Administration continuing these policies, “I’m hopeful that the Biden Administration will really pick up this alliance and run with it,” stated Thames. “We’ve heard how President Biden wants to bring a multi-lateral approach diplomacy… and here’s a network that’s brand new that will align with their approach to foreign policy.”

Thames continued that he’s hopeful that the Biden Administration, with a “friend on the 7th floor” to these issues in Secretary of State Blinken, will adopt, energize, and push forward these U.S.-led global organizations for advancing religious freedom.

He reminded viewers that such alliances of diverse countries are not just welcomed, but necessary, to confront his stated greatest challenge to religious freedom globally — China.

“When you’re confronting a country like China that’s strong and increasingly a player on the global stage, we have to find other ways [than simply ‘naming’ and ‘shaming’],” asserted Thames.

The former State Department special advisor recently penned an opinion piece in Foreign Policy titled “Why the Persecution of Muslims Should Be on Biden’s Agenda.” The article can be read here.

  1. Comment by David on February 9, 2021 at 10:07 am

    There are places in the world where the US has very little influence. North Korea is likely first on the list. China is up there as well as it is no longer dependant on US markets and not afraid of US invasion. Tibet was probably the earliest instance of Chinese ethnic suppression. Today, most of the population of Tibet was imported there from other parts of China by the government to dilute the indigenous culture. The situation with the Muslim Uighurs is more extreme and recalls the reeducation camps of the Cultural Revolution.

    It should be noted that the US is not without sin in this matter. From the late nineteenth to mid twentieth century, the children of Native Americans were sent to boarding schools away from their families. This was supposedly done to help them assimilate and to “christianize” them. Traditional hair styles were prohibited as was speaking in other than English. Even their names were changed to something more European sounding.

  2. Comment by Star Tripper on February 10, 2021 at 10:00 am

    The Biden Administration standing up to China? Really???? I fully expect the USCIRF to be either defended or enlisted by the White House to push the Globohomo agenda. The concern for Christians in the US will be the persecution directed at them for holding and proclaiming Biblical truth. Dark Winter indeed.

  3. Comment by David on February 10, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    Remember, it was the Red Army that defeated the US Army in North Korea during the Korean War. MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons, but Truman feared Russia would respond in kind. The US is not all powerful.

  4. Comment by Jeff on February 10, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Balderdash. The Red Army didn’t defeat the US in Korea, just like Nazi Germany didn’t defeat us in WW2 just because they pushed us back in the Battle of the Bulge. Korea and Vietnam were products not of an incapable military but rather of a weak-willed and soft national character. Same as today, with those like you, David, who see nothing good and everything bad in America.

  5. Comment by David on February 11, 2021 at 8:15 am

    The US and allies eventually conquered Germany, but that was never the case with North Korea that took most of South Korea early on. The US took most of their territory until the Chinese entered the war and pushed American forces back to the current border that essentially was that before the war began.

    I do not deny the US has good things, but so do other countries. America has a national arrogance that assumes the best of everything is here and we have nothing to learn from elsewhere. We may have been #1 in most things when the rest of the world was bombed out at the end of WWII, but those days are long gone. By many measures, we have fallen well behind western Europe. However, if you mention them, you are told to move elsewhere. Nothing improves without self examination and too many Americans are unwilling to do this and would rather live with their delusions of grandeur. The pro life people should be upset that the US ranks something like 36th in infant mortality, but, of course, right to life ends at birth.

  6. Comment by Search4Truth on February 15, 2021 at 8:41 pm

    Gentlemen, have you heard about the “Equality Act?” It was one of our new president’s top priority for enactment. It won’t be long after that becomes law and you can watch the U.S. find itself on the list of those countries that restrict religious practices. Don’t believe me? Let’s talk again in two years.

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