This week, Beijing horrified millions of Hong Kongers with the enforcement of a new national security law that ushers in sweeping regulations criminalising secession, subversion, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces. Anyone accused of breaking this law faces extradition to China for trial and life in prison.
The wording is so vague that no one can be sure how the coming months are going to play out, but what is certain is that these laws pose a serious threat to the freedoms, including religious freedom, of all Hong Kongers, says Gina Goh, Regional Manager for Southeast Asia with International Christian Concern, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
Gina speaks to Christian Today about why Christians everywhere need to be worried about what’s happening in Hong Kong and what action they can take.
CT: What’s your take on the passing of this law?
Gina: We knew that it was coming but I think to many people’s surprise, it’s actually stricter than we were expecting and there’s a clause in there that effectively regulates anybody, not just Hong Kong citizens.
Even before it passed, some people were saying that this is the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle. Sadly, it does seem so and I’m sure a lot of people will feel like Hong Kong as we knew it before is dead. They will continue to fight but it’s going to be a lot more difficult because if you say anything against China, that’s become criminalised.
Joshua Wong and other leaders of Demosisto have already stepped down because the struggle is going to be very difficult, and the push for human rights and democracy is going to have to be creative now. But even though they’ve stepped down, it’s possible that they could be arrested next week. It’s just so hard to predict what’s going to happen under these new laws.
CT: Do you think Christians in Hong Kong should be worried?
Gina: If you look at China, after President Xi Jinping came into power he started cracking down on churches. A Chinese friend told me that before Xi came into office, for Christians, it was like a yellow light – the authorities didn’t like Christians but they tolerated them and would sometime turn a blind eye to their gatherings. But after he came to power, the light turned red, especially for underground churches. The crackdown is increasing and they’re trying to get rid of house churches once and for all.
This is a concern for Hong Kong churches because they effectively qualify as ‘underground’ churches. We don’t know yet if China is going to come in and set up something like the Three Self Patriotic Church or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association to make sure they have all of these churches under their control. But they can only select so many pro-China priests and pastors. Hong Kong pastors have known freedom for a long time so it’s hard for them to suddenly yield to the control of the CCP.
If you look at the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan, Pastor Wang Yi spoke out about religious freedom and oppression, and for this he was charged with subversion of state power. So if you take the same standard and apply it to Hong Kong churches, a lot of pastors are going to be in trouble because they have been on the streets and spoken out against the Chinese government and Hong Kong government. People like Cardinal Zen, the Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong, and Christian scholar Ying Fuk-Tsang are likely big targets. They have not been afraid to speak out against the extradition laws.
But again, the laws are so broad we don’t yet know fully how things will be. Just this week, the Hong Kong police reportedly decided that stickers with a Bible verse that some girls had in their backpack were in violation of the national security law. So maybe even the Bible text itself, which talks about justice and mercy and rights, will violate this law. It’s so broad. So it’s definitely worrying for Christians there. Maybe their sermons or prayer vigils will be monitored by security agents; maybe they already have been and they just weren’t aware of it.
Another thing is that several years ago, a Hong Kong businessman was smuggling Bibles into China and China charged him with illegal business. With this new law now, China doesn’t even need to use trumped up charges to imprison you. They can just say you are violating the national security law and you can be in prison for up to 10 years. That’s definitely concerning for Hong Kong churches.
CT: Why does the CCP see Christians as such a great threat?
Gina: I would say it’s really more President Xi Jinping. His fear is firstly about the number of Christians. They have grown exponentially in the last 10 years. Although there is no official data, it’s believed they surpass the number of CCP members so they are afraid of this because they know that Christians’ allegiance is not to the party but to the Lord. If it’s a mass organisation, they feel threatened because they can’t control that, so that’s why they want to get rid of house churches.Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2018.REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
But also President Xi wants people to praise him and the CCP. That’s why in rural areas, churches were told to take down pictures of Jesus and replace them with his portrait, and give thanks to him and the party. China is increasingly becoming like North Korea where people have to worship the Kim regime.
Another thing is the blending of democratic values and Western values. With Christianity comes the pursuit of justice, freedom and human rights. There is still this notion that Christianity is a Western religion, and the CCP is anti-Western ideologies, especially in recent years. The CCP doesn’t want these ideas to spread around China because that becomes a threat to the regime. What if the people all decide to rise up and say we have had enough; that there’s no justice in this country and we don’t need you to rule us any longer?
CT: What would you like Christians everywhere to be doing or praying for when it comes to Hong Kong?
Gina: I think if people are not familiar with the issue, first learn about it and why Christians should care. We need to stand with democratic values, human rights and democracy, and as Christians we need to stand with those who are being oppressed. That’s what Jesus has commanded us to do.
In the last few months, the governments and media all over the world have been distracted by the coronavirus pandemic so the attention hasn’t been on Hong Kong but with this new measure, it needs to be back on Hong Kong again. On social media, Christians can tweet and help to keep the conversation alive. They can petition their government to take necessary measures, and tell their government that they care about this issue and want actions to be taken to help the people of Hong Kong.
And of course pray. Pray in your churches and hold prayer vigils. As Christians, we need to pray to show that we are standing in solidarity with Hong Kong Christians and churches because they are afraid; there is certainly a sense of fear.
Pray for the Christians in Hong Kong to stand strong because they need to be the salt and light there. It’s hard to imagine being in their shoes. Especially the church leaders must feel like they are being pressed from every side. The church leaders are shepherds of people but at the same they’re fearing for themselves as well. They could face arrest at any time so they need our prayers to stand strong.