Tuesday, July 18, 2017

RLPB 415. China: 'Big Brother' Invades Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 415 | Wed 19 Jul 2017

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CHINA: 'BIG BROTHER' INVADES CHURCH
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to use Zhejiang Province (China's Christian heartland and President Xi Jinping's former stamping ground) as a test site for its repressive religious policies. This is particularly true of Wenzhou City, long known as 'China's Jerusalem' because of its thriving Christianity. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring (Oct 2016)]. In late March authorities in Zhejiang ordered that all churches be fitted with surveillance cameras. Amidst stiff resistance, tensions are mounting, as are the concerns of China's Christians. As the West continues to kowtow -- even in the wake of the death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo -- it signals to all that President Xi is indeed the most powerful and untouchable leader in the world today.

A government official installs cameras at a Wenzhou church.
World Magazine (Photo: Robert Katz)
In Ningbo, a city with a significant population of Christians, surveillance cameras are already everywhere, including in the churches. In Wenzhou, however, resistance continues. At many churches cameras have been installed by force. Not only has this resulted in property damage, but church members resisting the forced installation have been wounded in scuffles or taken away by police. In Rui'an, a county-level city on the southern outskirts of Wenzhou, the 600-member Tuanqian Village Church was by early June the only church in the area still resisting the imposition of surveillance cameras. However, once the authorities cut the church's access to power and water, members started to doubt if they could resist much longer. It seems this has been the pattern in Rui'an. Unable to resist the installation, churches across Wenzhou are finding other ways to resist; for example, by disconnecting internal cameras or redirecting them (e.g. from the offertory box to the ceiling). Authorities have also installed surveillance cameras close to the Inner Mongolia home of Zhang Kai, the Christian human rights lawyer arrested in Wenzhou in August 2015 and imprisoned for providing the churches with legal advice [RLPB 325 (2 Sep 2015)]. Not only is he being closely monitored, he is being harassed, intimidated and threatened.

Despite the CCP's claims that the cameras will be used to enhance security, not everyone is convinced. In November 2015 the CCP released a draft of its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016 to 2020). It includes a plan to 'Improve the Social Credibility System' (chapter 71) [Full Text - pdf]. With the alleged aim of 'increasing integrity', the CCP will develop and implement 'a unified system of credit rating codes nationwide'. Data will be collected from which social credits may be earned through good behaviour, and lost through bad behaviour (such as traffic violations, over-spending, infidelity, spurious internet browsing, etc). Credit-rich enterprises and individuals will be rewarded, while the credit-poor will find themselves blacklisted, unable to travel, attend university or get jobs. It is not hard to imagine how this might impact the Chinese Church.

An electronic sign in Shenzhen, China, shows the faces
of people caught jaywalking by surveillance cameras.
Wall Street Journal (includes video).
[Article also in Straitstimes]
Much of the data collected will come from the myriad of surveillance cameras currently being rolled out nationwide supposedly to 'maintain national security' and 'prevent acts of terrorism'. Armed with sophisticated facial recognition software, these cameras are already being used not merely to catch criminals but to influence behaviour. For example, in many cities they are being used to name-and-shame jaywalkers, in real time. As the Wall Street Journal notes, 'China has access to immense amounts of data: photos uploaded by the country's more than 700 million internet users and a centralised image database of citizens, all of whom must have a government-issued photo ID by age 16.' Furthermore, 'This year [2017] China set up a government-funded laboratory to push the development of facial recognition and other forms of artificial intelligence. China hopes to become a leading innovator in those technologies.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God will grace his precious Church with all the wisdom, faith and grace it will need to traverse the difficult days ahead.

* the Spirit of God will awaken the Chinese people to the moral failings and inherent dangers of atheistic totalitarianism; may government over-reach give rise to spiritual revival.

* our Lord Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in China, even as the Father continues to work out his eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). 'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.' (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

'Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.' (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV).

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: 'BIG BROTHER' INVADES CHURCH 

In March, authorities in Zhejiang Province ordered all churches to be fitted with surveillance cameras. In Wenzhou, church property has been damaged and parishioners injured and arrested as cameras have been installed by force. Unable to resist the installations, some churches are disconnecting or redirecting cameras. The government claims the cameras are for security, but most are not convinced. China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) includes a plan to implement a 'social credit system' based largely on data collected from the myriad of surveillance cameras currently being rolled out nationwide. As every Chinese citizen over 16 has a government-issued photo ID card, these cameras, armed with sophisticated facial recognition software, will enable the government to reward its 'friends' and punish its 'enemies'. Please pray for China and the Chinese Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com