The Archbishop of Canterbury's recent speech tacitly permits religious human rights abuses to continue in the PRC
The Guardian: The decision by the Archbishop of Canterbury to defend China in the face of accusations of human rights abuses is not only a travesty, but could result in further occurrences as a result of his words. Dr Rowan Williams' assertion that "there is not systematic persecution of Christians, apart from certain sects" tacitly permits the Chinese government to continue in their practices and attitudes towards organised religion. He acknowledged that human rights abuses could be arbitrary in the country, but insisted that it was not systematic.
The People's Republic of China has always had a strong stance against organised religion, and a history of discouraging such beliefs and practices. The Communist party has said that religion is incompatible with membership of the party. The state recognises five religions - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Yet the government tries to control the practice of these religions and has outlawed any other type of religious or spiritual worship.
In 2005, the Chinese government set out a number of regulations that ostensibly allowed for greater freedom of religion. These regulations have been shown to be a sham, through both their wording and application.
The only Christian sects recognised by the Chinese government are Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic church has had an underground presence in China throughout the Communist rule, with prayers and teachings regularly interrupted by the police and members of the church kidnapped and detained. China and the Vatican had an informal dialogue during 2005 during which two new bishops were appointed. Simultaneously there were a number of underground Catholic clergy targeted and detained by the Chinese authorities. Large gatherings of Catholics continued to be disrupted by government officials and agents acting on its behalf, congregants were detained and other abuses occurred. In one headline-grabbing case, a number of nuns in Xi'an were severely beaten and injured while attempting to protect Catholic church buildings from demolition by the state.
In 2006, Protestant churches in Shanxi, Henan, Hubei and Jiangxi were targeted for authority crackdowns. Worshippers were detained or fined - some arrested - and reports of mistreatment of congregants were rife. Coordinating raids aimed at preventing growing membership in the Jilin province occurred in May 2005, with some 600 people remaining detained until large fines were paid on their behalf.
Cai Zhuohua, a Protestant minister, was detained alongside his colleagues for "illegal business practices". His crime was to have printed and distributed (for free) Christian literature, which angered the authorities who prefer to strictly regulate and control such activities.
Dr Rowan Williams' statement to Chatham House earlier this week was misguided, in the sense that it will be used by the Chinese authorities as another example of the west's tacit acceptance of the human rights abuses that regularly occur in the country. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have spent copious time and resources attempting to tackle the problems facing Chinese citizens. Yet their work is regularly undermined by the international community through events such as the award of the Olympic Games to Beijing, continued trade with Chinese companies known to abuse human rights and statements such as this one by the Archbishop of Canterbury. While China may have improved its tolerance of religious beliefs and practices to some degree, the assertion that systematic persecution no longer occurs there is nothing short of delusion.
The official line from the Chinese state is that religious freedom is respected, although it must be restricted to the five recognised religions and must be practised according to government guidelines. Yet there have been many reported instances of oppression and persecution of Christians across the country, let alone members of non-recognised religions such as Falun Gong. The longer that the world allows these abuses to occur, the more widespread and systematic they will become. Concerted action must be taken by the international community through trade, politics, sport and religion to exert pressure on China to comply with its human rights obligations. Until that time, China will continue persecuting and oppressing of its own citizens, in the knowledge that there will be no international repercussions.