China’s surveillance tech is a global threat to religious freedom, former U.S. envoy Brownback says

China’s surveillance tech is a global threat to religious freedom, former U.S. envoy Brownback says

Sam Brownback, the former U.S. envoy for international religious freedom during the Trump administration, said Wednesday that China’s use of high-tech tools to repress its religious minorities will lead to more authoritarian crackdowns around the globe.

Mr. Brownback, a former Kansas governor who also represented the state in the U.S. Senate, described China as “a nation that is authoritarian, and that’s currently conducting a genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

China’s communist government has in recent years also taken actions against independent Christian churches, as well as practitioners of the Falun Gong movement.

The religious liberty advocate said China is “the leading nation in the world to oppress religious freedom. And it’s using the latest technology to do it that they’re going to share” with other authoritarian regimes.

Mr. Brownback spoke as the 73rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948, approached. That document, spearheaded by former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, guaranteed a number of individual rights, including, under Article 18, religious liberty.

Its text reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Asked where the U.S. and other Western nations went wrong on protecting religious freedoms, Mr. Brownback replied, “I think we really let China just run roughshod. We all were lulled to sleep thinking, ‘Oh, they’ll mature into democracy. And then all this will just be a bad dream.’ It turned out to be what they were [at their] core and what they were about.”

Mr. Brownback said middle America views the Chinese government as “an evil regime,” and wants “to separate our economy from the Chinese Communist Party economy.”

He praised the Biden administration for maintaining sanctions placed on China by the Trump administration — and adding new ones. 

Mr. Brownback said the United States — which this week said its diplomats would boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — must continue to show resolve.

“I think we’ve just got to ‘set our face like flint’ to quote a biblical phrase, and just say, ‘We’re going to go back into a Cold War setting [as] we did against the Soviet Union for years,’” Mr. Brownback said.

Americans need the will, he said, “to confront China directly on human rights issues, on their economic espionage and theft of our technology.”

Katrina Lantos Swett, a former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who heads the Tom Lantos Human Rights Foundation, said Thursday that Mr. Brownback is “100% correct” when it comes to China.

“We need to recognize that China is aggressively seeking to become the world’s premier superpower,” Ms. Swett said in a telephone interview. “And they’re advancing this agenda on multiple fronts,” she added.

Ms. Swett, who co-chaired the 2021 International Religious Freedom event in Washington with Mr. Brownback, said they have a common human rights goal in relation to China.

“We are committed to exposing and confronting the pernicious influence of China‘s brazen and shameless trampling of human rights, the religious freedom rights of all of their citizens,” she said.