Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping has tightened the state’s control over religious affairs forcing 60 Christians to seek asylum in the US.

The Christian group included 29 adults and 31 children who fled from China between late 2019 and early 2020 and settled in South Korea’s Jeju Island. These members belong to Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as Shenzhen Mayflower Church, reported JustEarth News.

The group was seeking asylum United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR in Bangkok. They have travelled to Thailand on tourist visas recently after failing to get refugee status in South Korea.

Later, they decided to settle in the US after multiple courts in South Korea rejected their asylum applications, reported JustEarth News.

Xi has been calling for the “sinicisation” of religions, re-orienting them to function under the guidance of the CPC which ideologically remains atheist.

The message was sound and clear for the minorities including Christians and Muslims as Xi wanted to tighten the state’s control over religious affairs in the country, reported JustEarth News.

It may be mentioned here that the Chinese government released a white paper three years ago which stated that China has about 200 million believers – the majority were Buddhists in Tibet.

Others included 20 million Muslims, 38 million Protestant Christians, and 6 million Catholic Christians; besides 140,000 places of worship.

In November 2021, the US listed China under “countries of particular concern” for violations of religious freedom.

The CPC’s fear is that Christianity may become instrumental in overthrowing it as had happened in Poland where the Church movement was instrumental in overthrowing Communist rule in 1989, reported JustEarth News.

The Chinese government has always differentiated between Catholics and Protestants, pegged it at between 23 million and 40 million in 2014. It counted those who take part in religious activities in government-sanctioned churches.

A 2011 Pew survey found that around 5 per cent of China’s population in 2010 – or around 67 million – were Christians.

Beijing has kept a close watch on Christianity since the CPC adopted a conciliatory approach to religion four decades ago.

The growth of Christianity in China began at the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a period when all religions were suppressed, often brutally. This coincided with economic reforms, reported JustEarth News.

Watchdog group Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List stated that around 260 million Christians have been living in areas of high persecution — that’s one in eight believers worldwide — an increase of 10 per cent compared to 2019.

Open Doors USA, a bipartisan grassroots organization, had released a list of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. China came into focus in 2020 because of its forced labour camps and oppression of Uyghur Muslims that’s expected to spread and worsen.

In January 2020, a Chinese pastor described the fear and intimidation believers are enduring under the Communist government.

“The Chinese government has now placed severe restrictions and policies on the house churches asking neighbours to spy on one another, pressuring school teachers and college professors to betray and sign a statement to denounce their own faith as well to do the same to students,” Pastor Jian Zhu said.

Zhu described the Chinese government’s alarming actions as Christian persecution has continued to spread around the world.

A high-profile crackdown was carried out in Zhejiang province in 2014. Zhejiang is China’s Christianity heartland. Authorities took down crosses from nearly 2,000 churches, including government-registered ones, reported JustEarth News.

Christians have been under constant surveillance, not just on the streets, but also in their churches which have been torn down, and holy books confiscated. Pastor Wang Yi was sent to jail for nine years for speaking out against the state.

The exercise, being implemented by mercilessly crushing human rights, is part of President Xi Jinping’s determined efforts to reinterpret Christianity and the Bible according to socialist and communist values.

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