The co-chair of the U.S. Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), said at a June 27 hearing that "I have been in Congress since 1981, I have worked on human rights in China since 1981," yet the level of religious persecution there "has never been worse than it is right now."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has continued to recommend that China be listed by the State Department as a "country of particular concern," or among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
In Xinjiang, more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims-possibly more than two million, USCIRF estimates-have been detained in "re-education" camps with reports of psychological and physical torture. The region is subject to mass surveillance, and Muslims have been arrested for religious practices such as reading from the Quran, growing a beard, or observing Ramadan.
Questions have also arisen about a provisional agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops, reached last September, in an attempt to unify the Chinese underground Catholic Church and the state-recognized Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Under the agreement, episcopal candidates can be selected by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association for Vatican approval. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the emeritus archbishop of Hong Kong, was among the foremost of critics of the deal, warning that the Chinese government would influence the selection of candidates and the Vatican could be put in the defensive position of having to decline candidates.
The Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, however, has expressed optimism that the Holy See and China can work together for the common good in the future.
In an interview with the Global Times-owned by CCP Central Committee's official newspaper-published on May 12, Parolin said that the Vatican and China, "two ancient, great and sophisticated international entities," could work to "build a more secure and prosperous world."
Catholic "inculturation" and "sinicization" could be "complementary," Parolin said, and they "refer to each other without confusion and without opposition."
"There is confidence that a new phase of greater cooperation can now be opened for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and the harmony of the whole society," he said, referring to the deal on bishops.
Despite Vatican optimism, U.S. advocates have warned that the Chinese persecution of the underground Catholic Church has grown worse.
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said in a March speech in Hong Kong that "the Chinese government's abuse of members of Catholic communities has continued," and "[w]e see no signs that will change in the near future."
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USCIRF also reported that persecution of the underground church increased in the latter half of 2018.
Brownback cited other troubling developments in the mainland-Catholics in the Henan province under the age of 18 had been prohibited from attending Mass, and hundreds of Protestant and "underground" Catholic unregistered churches were shuttered by the government. Churches in Zhejiang province were being desecrated by government officials. Online sales of the Bible were being banned by government officials in 2018, and more than 900 Falun Gong practitioners were arrested for practicing their faith.
In addition, the magazine Bitter Winter has reported that several Christian house churches have been ordered to remove displays of the Ten Commandments and replace them with quotes by Xi Jinping.
There have also been allegations of organ harvesting by the government on imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners and Uighur Muslims. An independent human rights group, the China Tribunal, reported to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva of organ harvesting by the government on religious and ethnic minorities.