Beijing pushes ahead with crackdown on religion in China and Tibet

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Credit: Sea Trade Maritime News.
6th March 2019

Beijing to continue crackdown on religion.

Beijing has promised to move ahead with its campaign to “Sinicise religion” despite growing international condemnation over its crackdown on Islam, Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual work report on Tuesday, telling the national legislature: “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicisation of religion in China,” the South China Morning Post reported.

The move to “Sinicise religion” which was started by President Xi Jinping in 2015  is an attempt to bring religion under the control of the officially atheist communist party, and bring it in line with Chinese culture.

It has meant a crackdown on religious freedom across China. Muslims, Christians and Tibetan Buddhists have been hit hardest because they are groups China fears could be susceptible to foreign influence and might encourage ‘separatism’ in the country.

Over one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have reportedly been held in Chinese internment camps while being forced to reject Islam and swear loyalty to the party.

In Tibet there have been unconfirmed and contested reports of similar internment camps, while Chinese authorities have said that Tibetan monks who give unauthorised classes to children in monasteries will be punished.

Beijing has also ordered Tibetan Buddhists to replace traditional religious images of Lamas in their homes with pictures of party leaders and prostrate themselves before them, Free Tibet and Tibet Watch reported.

Some critics have called China’s actions “cultural cleansing,” while imprisoned Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk said Beijing is responsible for the “systematic slaughter” of his language and culture.

In the Chinese regions of Ningxia Hui and Gansu, which are home to many Hui Muslims, Arabic signs, domes and Islamic decor have been taken off the streets, the construction of new “Arab style” mosques has been banned and some Arabic language schools have been closed.

The Early Rain Covenant church in Chengdu, which has been associated with human rights causes, was forced to shut down. Some of its members and pastors have been detained and interrogated.

Human rights groups, foreign governments, academics and the United Nations have condemned China's crackdown on religion. But according to the report delivered on Tuesday, Beijing plans to continue tightening its hold.

Last year the party announced plans to give Christianity Chinese characteristics, which included retranslating the Bible and adding Chinese elements to Christian worship.

The “Sinicisation of religion” has been laid out in Xi’s 2017 address to the party congress which began his second term in power and outlines China’s policy direction until 2022.