While religion is getting more leeway in China, the opposite is happening for the Tibetans and Uighur, says journalist Ian Johnson, author of the upcoming book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao in the Globe&Mail. Just last week Xinjiang, home to the Uighur, saw a strong increase in security forces.
The treatment of Tibetans and Uighurs offers a glimpse of the downward spirals that can emerge under harsh policies.
In Xinjiang, what’s needed is de-escalation, “some kind of a peace process like the British had in Northern Ireland,” said Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. But that’s difficult to do when strict government policies have largely eliminated moderate voices and civil society.
“It’s a tough hole for them to climb out of there,” he said. “And this is going to be the largest conflict area for religion and state in China going forward.”
Elsewhere, China has so far been more lenient. Though hundreds of crosses were removed from churches in Zhejiang province, such action has barely been seen elsewhere – and virtually all Zhejiang churches remain open.
There are signs, however, that China is preparing for stronger action. Draft rules released last fall threaten fines for those who rent space to unregistered religious organizations, and new restrictions on contact and financial transactions between Chinese believers and foreign groups Mr. Johnson warned that such a strategy could “create a lot more problems for them than they think. They’re essentially picking a fight with people who are not likely to back down.” Under Mao, he noted, the Christian church roughly quadrupled in size despite the imprisonment and death of pastors and priests.
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