(Adds State Department comment on background.)
(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday thanked countries that resisted pressure from China’s communist government and attended a major U.S. ministerial on religious freedom. And he warned that the U.S. had taken note of countries that caved in to Beijing.
Addressing participants at the State Department-hosted event, Pompeosaid officials in China had “discouraged other countries from attending this very gathering.”
“Is that consistent with the guarantee of ‘freedom of religious belief’ that is found directly in the Chinese constitution?” he asked.
“If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you,” Pompeo continued. “And if you have declined to attend for the same reason, we took note.”
He added, however, that the U.S. hoped that countries which chose not to attend this year’s ministerial – the second annual event of its kind – “will reconsider your decision next time and find the courage to stand up for freedom every day and always.”
Pompeo called out China for persecuting Christians and adherents of the Falun Gong movement, but devoted his strongest language for its treatment of Uighur and other minority Muslims in the far-western Xinjiang region.
“China is home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time. It is truly the stain of the century,” he said. “Since April 2017, the Chinese government has detained more than one million Chinese Muslims and other minorities in camps in Xinjiang.”
Pompeo did not name the countries that had bowed to pressure from Beijing not to participate in the ministerial.
“We know the Chinese government called countries specifically to discourage participation,” a State Department spokesperson said on background. “We cannot prove the exact number they successfully impacted.”
China has a record of pressuring countries, typically at U.N. forums, to align with its positions, particularly on high-priority issues for the regime such as Taiwan and Tibet. The U.S. and other critics are concerned that the massive international infrastructure program known as the Belt-and-Road initiative is providing Beijing with even more leverage to use on other countries.
Just a week ago at the U.N. Human Rights Council, 37 countries signed a letter to senior U.N. officials praising China’s policies in Xinjiang, echoing its claims that the camps there are “vocational education and training centers” used to “deradicalize” Muslims as part of a campaign terrorism and extremism.
Of note, more than half of the signatories were countries that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of the world’s Muslim countries which has been silent on China’s treatment of Muslims.
‘There is no so-called religious persecution in China’
China has responded icily to the increasing U.S. and broader concern about the situation in Xinjiang.
On the sidelines of the ministerial, President Trump met in the Oval Office with 27 victims of religious persecution from 16 countries, including four from China – a Uighur Muslim, a Christian, a Tibetan Buddhist, and a Falun Gong practitioner.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called Trump’s meeting with the four “sheer interference in China’ internal affairs.”
“Those the U.S. invited to the so-called religious meeting include a member of the Falun Gong cult and some other people who have been smearing China’s religious policy,” Lu Kang told a briefing at the ministry.
“We urge the U.S. to view China’s religious policies and freedom of religious belief in an unbiased manner,” he said.
“There is no so-called religious persecution in China at all,” Lu declared. “The Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief in accordance with law.”
There was no immediate reaction from the foreign ministry to Pompeo’s remarks on Thursday, but the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times did respond.
The true “stain of the century,” it quoted an academic from one of China’s top law schools as saying, was U.S.-initiated wars that have caused humanitarian suffering and spread terrorism globally.
A second academic, from a university administered by the foreign ministry, resorted to personal attacks, saying Pompeo himself was “a stain” – a diplomat who instead of making friends around the world has offended as many as he can, and was almost universally not liked.
Turning to Pompeo’s comments about the U.S. having taken note of countries which succumbed to Chinese pressure not to attend the ministerial, Global Times said “experts” viewed those remarks as “blatant threat to countries which would make fair judgments on China’s Xinjiang policies and a show of U.S. hegemony.”
In a separate article, the Communist Party-linked daily said it was “comical” for the Trump administration to tout religious freedom after issuing what it called a “Muslim travel ban.”
It also pointed to this week’s House of Representatives resolution condemning Trump for remarks directed at Democratic congresswomen of color.
The article ended by deriding those claiming to be victims of religious persecution in China, labeling them extremists who “have become pathetic cannon fodder in the U.S. containment of China.”