Forum 18: China – Should religious freedom be a “core interest”?

Map of China's Christians

By Magda Hornemann, Forum 18 News Service <;
Why does the Chinese state adopt measures that result in freedom of religion and belief violations? A fundamental explanation might be found among the Chinese leadership’s concept of the country’s “core interests”, such as territorial integrity and social stability. Religious freedom might significantly improve if the Chinese state changes its view of the relationship between its “core interests” and religious freedom. Indeed, the Chinese leadership should seriously consider designating and implementing the protection of freedom of religion and belief as one of its core interests. Doing so will do more to bolster the state’s stability and legitimacy than the use of violent force against unarmed civilians. It will require much courage and determination for the new Chinese leadership to accept this reality and take positive measures to respond to the situation. But a failure to do so may result in significant negative political consequences for the Chinese state.
What might lead to an improvement in China’s freedom of religion or belief record? Are there any long-term factors that would influence China’s new political leaders to improve the situation – or indeed to go in the opposite direction? Any analysis of such long-term prospects must take into account macro political factors, given that China’s political establishment views religious freedom and related human rights through the lens of their perception of their political interests.

Increasingly, China’s leaders have been stressing what they see as China’s “core interests”. If these interests are as important for the leadership as they say they are, the future of religious freedom in China is deeply connected to the relationship between this freedom and these core interests. In fact, it appears that religious freedom violations sponsored by the state are undermining China’s core interests. If so, it will be in the interest of China’s leaders to take effective measures to promote religious freedom.

Recent freedom of religion and belief violations

Dramatic improvements in the religious freedom of – for example – Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims, will be required before it can be said that there are very significant improvements in China’s religious freedom conditions. Unfortunately, the religious freedom situation in 2012 demonstrates that such improvements have yet to be achieved.

Among numerous 2012 violations, a Christian Chinese-Canadian businesswoman was detained for visiting the Shouwang Church in the capital city of Beijing and another house church in Shanxi Province, while from January 2012 government officials were appointed to manage Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in place of “loyal” monks (see F18News 20 March 2012

Read the entire text on the Forum 18 website.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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