Christian human rights experts have raised concerns over Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s visit to China, over atrocities committed against civilians, particularly people of faith.
Christians in China have the option to attend state-approved churches, which often involve rewritten Bibles, communist symbolism and displaying compulsory paintings of the country's leader, Xi Jinping. Anyone under the age of 18 is not allowed to attend.
Christians who don’t want to attend these places of worship, which are tightly controlled by the communist government, often gather in underground churches, but they risk terrifying consequences – including prison or kidnappings – if they’re discovered. There’s currently a nationwide crackdown on illegal churches.
Mr Cleverly says he's raised the issue of human rights in every meeting he's attended with Chinese ministers, but his decision to accept the invitation has been met with mixed reaction. Some Christians say he shouldn't have gone, others believe, despite the abuses, it’s vital to get China on-side for the sake of global progress.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, China expert Benedict Rogers from Hong Kong Watch said: “In terms of striking the balance, I think, of course we should talk to them... but I also think that, as well as engaging, we should use punitive measures where appropriate.
“We should be using targeted sanctions - not sanctions against the whole country but against individuals and entities that are responsible for some of these crimes against humanity and atrocities.”
He's one of those who feels the timing of the visit is wrong: “I would say that it's the worst time for human rights, certainly since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and possibly in some respects, since the Cultural Revolution under Mao." Mr Rogers told Premier there are "credible accusations of genocide", especially against the Uyghur population, and that atrocities in Tibet "continue to intensify".
“The regime has totally dismantled Hong Kong's promised freedoms and autonomy," he added. "For Christians, it's the worst crackdown in decades…I think those are the reasons why people are concerned about whether James Cleverly has chosen the right time to go to Beijing.”