Chinese policy to get rid of all missionaries by 2017?

Proselytizing by foreigners is officially illegal in China, and China is no longer turning a blind eye.

Paul Yoo, a South Korean missionary, had lived untroubled by authorities for years in northeastern Chinese city. The knock on Mr. Yoo’s door marked the beginning of a quiet forced evacuation of foreign missionaries, including hundreds of South Koreans, some of whom have worked to train and convert Chinese, and others who have helped Christian defectors from North Korea.

Those who remain live in mounting fear that they will be next, as China’s new president Xi Jinping seeks to rid the country of foreign influences and effectively nationalize Christian churches to bring them under state control.

“This crackdown, and the people being deported, has intensified starting from May,” said Rev. Peter Jung, director of Justice For North Korea, which supports North Korean defectors. And, he said, “the number of missionaries getting arrested has increased.”

The Chinese pressure on missionaries, however, extends far beyond the North Korean border, suggesting Beijing’s chief motivation is concern about religion.

“One of the aims of Xi Jinping’s policies is to get rid of all missionaries by 2017,” said one missionary who continues to work in north-eastern China.

Such a claim is impossible to verify. Mr. Xi, the Chinese president, has publicly said no such thing. But fears in the missionary community of a coming clean sweep offer a window into the degree of alarm that has spread. The missionary asked The Globe to reveal no potentially identifying details, including his age or nationality, how much time he and his wife have spent in China or the nature of their work there.

[Globe and Mail]

Chinese crackdown on missionaries to the North Koreans

Conditions in China have never been easy for foreign missionaries, and most try to keep a low profile. They work for so many different organizations and denominations that numbers are hard to come by. But from interviews with nearly a dozen former and active missionaries, experts and academics it’s clear at least hundreds – perhaps nearly 1,000 – have been forced out of China.

In early 2013, at the peak, China was home to some 2,000 to 4,000 missionaries from South Korea alone; U.S. missionaries made up large numbers as well.

The forced departures form the background to the detention a little more than two weeks ago of Canadians Kevin and Julia Garratt, a  Christian couple who had run a coffee shop in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border. Chinese authorities have accused them of stealing state secrets, but said little about what they have done wrong. Canadian officials believe their detention is likely China’s response to allegations of Chinese espionage in North America, including by a Canadian immigrant who is accused of co-ordinating hacking attacks to steal U.S. fighter jet secrets.

Yet the Garratts also stood at a dangerous nexus of issues that stir Chinese suspicion, by virtue of their personal faith, their humanitarian work with North Korea and the donations from Canadian churchgoers that supported them. That background almost certainly attracted the attention of authorities, though it may not be the primary reason for the couple’s detention.

China is North Korea’s closest ally, but the two nuclear powers still operate with great of mutual suspicion, and the Garratts live in a place that is the focus of intense Chinese military and intelligence scrutiny. Some of that is directed at Christian missionaries who play a critical role in the underground railroad that secrets North Korean defectors out of China.

“If you are a North Korean in China, the only place where you can realistically be given food and shelter is a church,” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar and expert on North Korea. Often, that means the involvement of missionaries, who “actively proselytize among the North Korean refugees,” and train them in spreading Christianity inside North Korea.

The eviction of missionaries is in some ways a mark of China’s own perceived global strength, as an increasingly confident Beijing seeks to define China, an atheist state with government-run churches, on its own terms. Yet it also threatens to revive a point of conflict between China and Western nations, which have long criticized the Communist country for its refusal to allow free pursuit of religion.

[Globe and Mail]

Growing Christianity in China

Among the actions China has been guilty of: Detentions, the kidnapping of bishops, crackdowns on underground churches, as well as foreign missionaries on their North Korean border, and in the past few months, even entire churches have been torn down in China under the premise of building code violations. The Christian community has reacted in large numbers, with thousands showing up to protest the demolitions.

The rapidly growing popularity of religion may be seen as a threat to the Communist Party’s authority. “There’s a pattern of pendular movement in the Chinese government’s stance towards religion, of being repressive and then of being accommodating,” says Lionel Jensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, at the University of Notre Dame. “I think that the Chinese government doesn’t know how to go about assessing the strain along those lines.”

So when Pope Francis was given permission to fly over China on his way to and from South Korea, many saw it as a sign of hope for religious freedom in China. The state-run Global Times calls it a sign of “possible détente.”

Meanwhile, there are religious groups in China that have not been sanctioned by the state that worship underground.

Jin Tianming is a priest and member of Beijing Shouwang Church, an underground Protestant community. His group of worshipers has had trouble finding a permanent location to hold church gatherings, frequently suffering harassment from police, with members of the church arrested or detained on occasion. “We put our beliefs above society. I don’t think the two are compatible in any way,” says Jin.

The existence of unregistered religious groups makes it difficult to calculate the number of Christians in China. A Pew Research Center study from 2011 estimates the number of Christians inside China at 67 million, about 5% of the country’s total population at the time, amongst which around 10 million are Catholics. This is compared to 10 million Christians in total in 1996.

According to researchers, the numbers are rising quickly. Professor Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, has predicted that China will be home to the largest Christian population by 2030.

[CNN]

Chinese authorities sweep of Christian foreigners on North Korean border

In searches of an apartment and coffee shop belonging to Kevin and Julia Garratt, Chinese authorities took safes, documents, cash, computers, laptops, cell phones – even a fan and electric piano, according to the couple’s Vancouver-based son, Simeon Garratt.

On Monday, the Garratts were detained by China’s State Security Bureau and accused of stealing Chinese military and defense research secrets. The Christian couple operated a charity that brought humanitarian goods to North Korea. They also ran a coffee shop and weekly English classes in Dandong, China, a city that overlooks the northwestern corner of North Korea.

The seizures come as China has also frozen the bank accounts of a Korean-American man running a Christian non-profit organization in a different city on the border with North Korea. Peter Hahn operated a school in Tumen, China, and ran several businesses, including a bakery, in North Korea. He was placed under investigation by Chinese authorities three weeks ago, a source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters, which reported the case Thursday.

Mr. Hahn has not been detained, and his school continues to operate, according to a woman who answered the telephone at the Tumen River Vocational School. But the Korean-American man is not permitted to leave the country, Reuters said.

Mr. Hahn’s school is attended by ethnic Korean children. He also operates several humanitarian projects and joint venture companies inside North Korea, including a local bus service in the Rajin-Songbon Special Economic Zone. Attached to the Tumen River Vocational School is a western restaurant called the Green Apple Café. That cafe remains operational, the woman at the school said.

A third cafe owned by Christian westerners in Yanji, another Chinese city near the North Korean border, has also recently closed. Gina’s Place Western Restaurant opened in 2008, the same year the Garratts opened their café. The owners of the two establishments knew each other, with their children attending summer camps together.

David Etter, who ran Gina’s before it closed, said he, too, delivered humanitarian aid, including food, to North Korean orphanages. But, he said, the cafe’s closure was financially-motivated, and did not come as a result of government pressure.

Still, the confluence of closures and government pressure on border establishments owned by foreign Christians adds to the questions about what lies behind the detentions.

[Globe and Mail] 

The politics of Beijing’s impatience with North Korea

Senior officials from China and South Korea will hold talks over the coming days to boost their cooperation on regional security, following a landmark visit to Seoul by President Xi Jinping. Xi’s visit indicated Beijing was shifting its attention from North Korea to the South as the Chinese president broke a tradition of his predecessors by not visiting Pyongyang first on an official visit to the Korean peninsula.

There have been no top-level visits between Beijing and Pyongyang since Kim Jong-un assumed power in 2012. Xi’s trip to Seoul is being interpreted as a sign of Beijing’s growing frustration with the volatile hardline state following a series of nuclear tests and missile launches.

An Asia-based diplomat who did not wish to be named said Beijing had been exerting pressure through diplomatic channels to stop Pyongyang launching a fourth nuclear test after it conducted its third in 2013.

Stalled six-nation nuclear talks have been dormant since late 2008. South Korea, the US and Japan demanded Pyongyang show its sincerity to seek denuclearisation before the talks could resume, but Pyongyang demanded there be no pre-conditions.

[Despite these recent actions] Cui Zhiying, a professor of Korean affairs at Tongji University in Shanghai, said China still believed that taking tough action against Pyongyang would create further uncertainties on the Korean peninsula. So Beijing would not go hand in hand with Seoul against Pyongyang, while Seoul still depends on its security alliance with Washington.

The US has urged Seoul and Tokyo to improve their relationship as their worsening ties could play into China’s hands, while Seoul is aware that its strategic value to Beijing will be lessened should Sino-US relations return to a more positive track, Lee Jung-nam, a professor at the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University said.

“The development of ties between South Korea and China has implications for the relationship between South Korea, the US and Japan.”

[South China Morning Post]

China denies planning for North Korean collapse

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed purportedly leaked plans for dealing with regime collapse in North Korea, while the plan’s authenticity itself has come under question:

John Delury, a professor of Chinese history at Yonsei University in Seoul told NK News that it is highly likely that China, along with other stakeholders such as the U.S. and South Korea, would have contingency plans for a North Korean regime collapse but that he is “deeply skeptical” of the validity of this report.

“I don’t doubt the existence of such plans. The Chinese have mentioned them to me and others, at least in think tank settings, if not publicly. Indeed, it would be pretty odd if the PLA and other agencies did not have such plans, but I’m not convinced Kyodo actually saw them,” said Delury.

This is a sentiment shared by Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese history at the University of Leeds. “Where are the documents? If they don’t actually exist or cannot be excerpted in Chinese or English, I would be skeptical, although Kyodo is a decent news agency.”

Genuine or not, the plans highlight China’s high stake in North Korean stability, with collapse likely to send both a humanitarian crisis and geopolitical chaos washing over its border.

The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne notes that the intact Pyongyang regime presents a “more immediate nightmare” for Beijing: “Evidence North Korea is about to pull the trigger on its fourth nuclear test underline that the North is marching determinedly, one step at a time, toward the day when it can target any city in the Asian Pacific—and potentially large population centers in the U.S.—with nuclear attack.

“This is China’s nightmare: a nuclear arms race on its doorstep, and one that adds muscle to its rival Japan as the two wrangle over a set of islets in the East China Sea.

“Yet it would be a huge leap for Beijing to actually abandon one of its few real friends in the world. In the end, the demise of a socialist ally may be too unnerving a prospect for the Chinese Communist Party, which frets about its own mortality.”

[China Digital Times]

China reiterates it will not allow war or instability on Korean Peninsula

China will not allow war or instability on the Korean Peninsula, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Saturday. “The Korean Peninsula is right on China’s doorstep. We have a red line, that is, we will not allow war or instability on the Korean Peninsula,” Wang said at a press conference.

“I believe this is also fully in the interest of the South and North of the peninsula and in the common interest of the whole region,” Wang added.

The minister also called for an early resumption of the six-party talks. “If I may use some metaphors, I believe, we need to climb a slope, remove a stumbling block and follow the right way.” Describing the nuclear issue as the “crux of the matter,” Wang said, “First, we need climb the slope of denuclearization. Only with denuclearization can the Korean Peninsula have genuine and lasting peace.”

Secondly, the parties need to work hard to remove the stumbling block of mutual mistrust, said Wang. There is serious lack of mutual trust between the parties, especially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, he added.

Third, the parties must follow the right way forward, which is dialogue, said Wang, pointing to the six-party talks as “the only dialogue mechanism acceptable to all the parties. … As the host country, we hope there can be an early resumption of the six-party talks. Some dialogue is better than none, and better early than later.”

[Xinhua]

China holds the key concerning UN North Korea Report

The report released by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea constitutes a clarion call to action. According to many analysts, it will also amount to little, unless China, one of North Korea’s few allies, gives its consent.

“So what is likely to happen? Nothing,” write the editors of New York Post. They argue that while the report exposes a slew of North Korean atrocities, it may be more eye-opening to see the extent of the UN’s failure to do anything about it.

The international community must hold China accountable for the role it played in facilitating North Korea’s abuses, writes Kenneth Roth of Foreign Policy: “No country has more influence over North Korea than China, which has long provided a lifeline of economic aid and political cover to the Kim dynasty of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and, since Dec. 2011, Kim Jong Un, while refusing to do anything about the horrendous cruelty being committed next door. If it wanted to, Beijing could use its considerable influence to press Pyongyang to curb its atrocities.”

If response from China is any indication, Beijing seems uninterested in pursuing the avenue opened up by the UN report. “China maintains that differences in human rights should be handled through constructive dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday, according to Beijing-based Global Times. “To bring human rights issues to the International Criminal Court does not help improve a country’s human rights conditions.”

Human rights lawyer Jared Genser thinks there are ways to pressure China to allow the Human Rights Council to act. “That said, the way forward will be exceptionally difficult,” he writes in The Diplomat. “Changing the conduct of the North Korea regime, let alone holding its members to account for the commission of crimes against humanity, will require a Herculean effort.”

Bloomberg View’s editors suggest that China may be ready to back away from Kim Jong-un. “China’s interests lie in a transition to minimally acceptable standards of behavior in Pyongyang, not in supporting the insupportable pending the outright collapse of Kim’s regime,” they write.

Even if the Chinese Security Council roadblock is overcome, however, that doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-un will ever face judgment. The editors of the Ottawa Citizen write that the Security Council has a bad record of actually catching those they refer to the ICC.

[BBC]

Unease in China and India over ousting of Jang Song Thaek from North Korean power

nkorea-uncle jangAn extraordinary photo published by the official KCNA news agency on Monday, showing Jang being unceremoniously escorted from a Communist Party meeting by two armed guards, left no doubt that he had become persona non grata.

The recent, very public ouster of North Korea’s Jang has been noted with some concern in China, which is more or less Pyongyang’s only friend in the region. As significant as such a high-level shakeup might seem inside reclusive North Korea, The New York Times says “nowhere is the downfall more unnerving than in China.”

“Despite Chinese irritation with North Korea’s nuclear tests and other bellicose behavior, China had built a good relationship with Mr. Jang as the trusted adult who would monitor Mr. Kim, who is less than half his age.”

“While there is no indication that the Chinese intend to change their view, it seemed clear that even Beijing’s top leaders were surprised by Mr. Jang’s abrupt downfall.”

Time writes: “Jang was once seen as a regent to the young dictator [Kim Jong Un]. He also had strong patronage networks of his own, and within the ultraconservative halls of North Korean power was seen as something of a liberal. He visited Seoul in 2002 and has made several official trips to China, most recently in August 2012.”

He was also reportedly a supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms, according to The Associated Press.

India’s The Hindustan Times points out that Beijing’s unease with the changed dynamics at the top of the government in Pyongyang were reflected in an editorial in the state-run nationalist tabloid, the Global Times, on Tuesday. “As Jang was viewed as the second-most powerful figure and is North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s uncle, this announcement is considered a significant political event,” it said.

[NPR]

Catch-22 of Modern Chinese Foreign Policy

Excerpt from Council on Foreign Relations blog:

The People’s Republic of China finds itself today in a foreign policy paradox. On the one hand, China repeatedly asserts its right to retake the world stage as a major international power and influence global standards, norms, and positions. On the other hand, China has been a staunch defender of the sovereign rights of nation-states and espouses a policy of noninterference.

With foreign policy, China wants to resolve disputes regionally where China has the most influence. Yet, when handed a golden opportunity to show themselves as leaders in the region and indeed, the world, by persuading North Korea to end its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, the most China does is issue a series of diplomatic condemnations and agree to watered-down United Nations sanctions.

The two main risk factors for China are:

  1. North Korea openness might lead eventually to regime change and reunification with the Republic of Korea
  2. China, itself, would incur new expectations with respect to living up to international agreements and norms

To be fair, China has allowed an ”increasingly dialectic domestic debate over China’s North Korea policy.” However, this debate has yet to show any effect on state policy beyond words.

Will China remain insular and hold steadfast to its non-interference principles? Or, will the benefit of continuing to grow into a stronger global power persuade new chairman Xi Jinping to take concrete steps to exert positive influence on North Korea? Time will tell, but with every passing day and each subsequent irrational act by North Korea, China loses respect from its peers and risks being identified with the rogue regime. Conversely, China could side with the overwhelming majority of nations that support new sanctions. Surely, China has come too far down the road of globalism and international cooperation to turn its back on the opportunity for recognition and power.