Archive for ‘President Trump’


An ‘atheist’ empire? Trump aides rally evangelicals in China fight

  • Religious freedom is a growing theme of President Donald Trump’s confrontation with Beijing, and it’s resonating with Christian leaders
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 5:07pm

Vice-President Mike Pence infuriated Beijing when he gave a speech in October warning that China had become a dangerous rival to the United States. While he focused on familiar issues such as China’s trade policies and cyber espionage, Pence also denounced the country’s “avowedly atheist Communist Party”.

Citing a crackdown on organised religion in the country, Pence noted that Chinese authorities “are tearing down crosses, burning Bibles and imprisoning believers”.

“For China’s Christians,” Pence said, “these are desperate times.”

Pence’s remarks, which also addressed the repression of Chinese Buddhists and Muslims, illustrated how religious freedom is a growing theme of President Donald Trump’s confrontation with Beijing, which some foreign policy insiders warn could develop into a new cold war.

It is a subject that resonates in the US heartland, some Christian leaders say – parts of which, including rural areas, are disproportionately at risk of fallout from Trump’s trade fight with the Asian giant.

The issue has gained new resonance with Beijing’s arrest this month of a prominent Christian pastor and more than 100 members of his congregation.

The arrests have drawn close coverage from evangelical outlets such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), whose website published an open letter by the jailed pastor, Wang Yi, declaring his “anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime”.

Days after the arrests, Trump’s ambassador for international religious freedom, the former Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback, decried the crackdown and said that in the weeks since Pence’s speech, religious freedom concerns “have only grown”.

While China’s religious persecution draws less media attention than issues like soybean tariffs and cyber espionage, it is closely tracked by conservative Christian activists and outlets like CBN, where a typical headline recently reported: “Chinese Government Destroys Christian Church, Bills Pastor for Demolition.”

In September, Providence Magazine, which covers US foreign policy from a Christian perspective, wrote that in 2018 China’s religious repression has reached “a sustained intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticised China on such grounds.

In a report on international religious freedom released earlier this year, the State Department noted that throughout China there were reports of “deaths in detention of religious adherents as well as reports the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices”.

Religious activists note that Pence, Brownback, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top Trump aides are people of faith with genuine concerns about religious freedom. But even they acknowledge the subject happens to be a potent political message for religious conservatives and may help rally them behind Trump’s confrontational China policy.

Some religious leaders even hear an echo of history: cold war-era denunciations of “godless” Soviet communism by past US presidents, notably Ronald Reagan

“In the great heartland of America, where there tend to be higher levels of people who care about faith, reminding people that a regime – whether then the Soviet Union or today’s communist China – rejects God and has an official policy of atheism is helpful in getting them to understand why our government is taking certain actions in the foreign policy area,” said Gary Bauer, a longtime conservative Christian leader whom Trump appointed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“Evil empire” was the famous label then-president Reagan applied to the Soviet Union in 1983. Less remembered is the fact that Reagan was addressing the National Association of Evangelicals.

Reagan vowed at the time that the Soviets “must be made to understand: … We will never abandon our belief in God”.

Trump himself rarely addresses religious freedom or human rights, and when it comes to China he focuses mainly on Beijing’s trade practices. But his administration – backed by an evangelical base that stood for Trump in 2016 and continues to supporthim enthusiastically – has strongly emphasised international religious freedom.

Earlier this year, for instance, the State Department hosted a first-ever gathering of foreign ministers devoted to the subject. (China was not invited and was targeted in a joint statement signed by a handful of countries, including the US.)

“This administration is putting this in the matrix of all of our policy,” said Tony Perkins, another prominent Christian conservative who serves on the religious freedom commission and is close to the White House. “It’s more than just the throwaway line.”

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has also assailed Beijing for religious persecution, including at a September speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, an event affiliated with the Perkins-led Family Research Council.

During an appearance which some critics called inappropriately political, Pompeo decried “an intense new government crackdown on Christians in China, which includes heinous actions like closing churches, burning Bibles, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith”.

Like Pence, Pompeo also dwelled on the plight of China’s Muslim population, particularly ethnic Uygurs from the Chinese province of Xinjiang. A State Department official recently testified before lawmakers that up to 2 million Muslims are now confined to special camps in China.

“Their religious beliefs are decimated,” Pompeo told Values Voter Summit attendees.

The Chinese government, which often casts Uygur Muslims as potential terrorists, says the camps are designed to teach vocational and life skills. But the State Department official, Scott Busby, said the goal appears to be “forcing detainees to renounce Islam and embrace the Chinese Communist Party”.

While evangelical groups active in Washington tend to focus primarily on the persecution of Christians in China and elsewhere, some make sure to point out that they care about religious freedom for all faith groups, including Muslims. In a past interview with POLITICO, Brownback stressed that he also wants to protect people’s right to have “no religion at all”.

The Trump administration may unveil a set of human rights-related sanctions targeting officials in a range of countries in the coming weeks. Some China observers are hopeful the list will include Chen Quanguo, a top Communist Party official said to have orchestrated the anti-Muslim crackdown and to have had a role in repressing Tibetan Buddhists.

“It’s a critical moment,” said Bob Fu, a US-based pastor and founder of ChinaAid, a group that advocates for religious freedom in China.

Brownback did not offer comment for this story, and a spokesman for Pompeo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesperson said of Pence that “religious freedom throughout the world is a top priority for the vice-president and the administration as a whole”.

Bauer predicted that evangelicals and other voters in the US heartland will continue to support Trump even if he expands his trade war with China. The administration, cognizant of the potential pain for its supporters, has taken some steps to cushion the blow, such as offering farming subsidies.

By retaliating against particular US industries, such as soybean farmers, China is trying to pressure the administration. “I think China will fail in this effort and support for the Trump-Pence policies will remain strong,” Bauer said.

When it comes to pleasing the religious right, the Trump administration has been willing to make some dicey moves.

This past summer, to the shock of the foreign policy establishment, Trump imposed economic sanctions on two Cabinet officials in Turkey – an important US ally and fellow Nato member – due to the questionable imprisonment of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson.

Brunson, whose cause was championed by evangelicals, was eventually freed and the sanctions lifted.

How far the administration will push Beijing on religious freedom could come down to the president himself and what China is willing to do to assuage his concerns on trade.

Trump, after all, has been willing to drop talk of human rights issues when it seems he’s making progress on other fronts – that’s what has happened in his dealings with North Korea.

The Chinese in particular are highly sensitive to their global image, and, like the Soviet Union, China cannot be ignored.

“If this tariff business gets really bad and the economy goes down, I wouldn’t be surprised if [Trump officials] ramp up the ‘evil empire’ language,” said a Senate Democratic aide. “It inoculates them from their base.”

But “if you start using the ‘evil empire’ language”, the aide added, “it’s harder to make up and kiss and be friends.”


Xi, Trump exchange congratulations over 40th anniversary of China-U.S. diplomatic ties

BEIJING, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday exchanged congratulations on the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations.

In his congratulatory message, Xi said China-U.S. relations have experienced ups and downs and made historic progress over the past 40 years, bringing huge benefits to the two peoples and contributing greatly to world peace, stability and prosperity.

History has proved that cooperation is the best choice for both sides, Xi said.

Currently, China-U.S. relations are in an important stage, he noted.

“I attach great importance to the development of China-U.S. relations and am willing to work with President Trump to summarize the experience of the development of China-U.S. relations and implement the consensus we have reached in a joint effort to advance China-U.S. relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability so as to better benefit the two peoples as well as the people of the rest of the world,” Xi said.

For his part, Trump said Jan. 1, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations.

Great progress has been made in the development of bilateral ties over the past years, he noted.

Trump said it is his priority to promote cooperative and constructive U.S.-China relations, adding that his solid friendship with President Xi has laid a firm foundation for the great achievements of the two countries in coming years.


Xi, Trump have telephone conversation, agree to implement consensus in Argentina meeting

BEIJING, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday held a telephone conversation, expressing their willingness to push for implementation of their agreements reached during the G-20 summit in Argentina.

Trump wished Xi and the Chinese people a happy new year, saying that the U.S.-China relations are very important and closely followed by the whole world.

He said he values the great relations with Xi, adding that he is pleased to see the teams of both countries are working hard to implement the important consensus reached between him and Xi during their meeting in Argentina.

Trump said relevant talks and coordination are producing positive progress. He hopes results will be reached to the benefit of both U.S. and Chinese peoples as well as people of all nations.

Xi, for his part, extended best wishes to Trump and the U.S. people upon the arrival of the new year.

Xi said both he and Trump hope to push for a stable progress of the China-U.S. relations, adding that the bilateral ties are now in a vital stage.

The Chinese president said he and Trump had a very successful meeting early this month and reached important consensus in Argentina.

The teams from both countries have since been actively working to implement such consensus, he said, expressing hopes that both teams can meet each other halfway and reach an agreement beneficial to both countries and the world as early as possible.

Xi said next year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and China, adding that China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral relations and appreciates the willingness of the U.S. side to develop cooperative and constructive bilateral relations.

China is willing to work with the United States to summarize the experience of 40 years of the development of China-U.S. relations, and strengthen exchanges and cooperation in fields of economy and trade, military, law enforcement, anti-drug operations, local issues and culture, Xi said.

Xi added that China is also willing to work with the United States to maintain communication and coordination on major international and regional issues, respect each other’s important interests, promote China-U.S. relations based on coordination, cooperation and stability, and let the development of bilateral relations better benefit the two peoples and people around the world.

The two heads of state also exchanged views on international and regional issues of common concern such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Xi reiterated that China encourages and supports further talks between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and hopes for positive results.


Trump says ‘big progress’ on possible China trade deal

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Saturday that he had a “long and very good call” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well.

As a partial shutdown of the U.S. government entered its eighth day, with no quick end in sight, the Republican president was in Washington, sending out tweets attacking Democrats and talking up possibly improved relations with China.

The two nations have been in a trade war for much of 2018, shaking world financial markets as the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods between the world’s two largest economies has been disrupted by tariffs.

Trump and Xi agreed to a ceasefire in the trade war, deciding to hold off on imposing more tariffs for 90 days starting Dec. 1 while they negotiate a deal to end the dispute following months of escalating tensions.

“Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China,” Trump wrote. “Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!”

Chinese state media also said Xi and Trump spoke on Saturday, and quoted Xi as saying that teams from both countries have been working to implement a consensus reached with Trump.

“I hope that the two teams will meet each other half way, work hard, and strive to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and beneficial to the world as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Having cancelled his plans to travel to his estate in Florida for the holidays because of the government shutdown that started on Dec. 22, Trump tweeted, “I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal.”

The Republican-controlled Congress was closed for the weekend and few lawmakers were in the capital.

The shutdown, affecting about one-quarter of the federal government including 800,000 or so workers, began when funding for several agencies expired.

Congress must pass legislation to restore that funding, but has not done so due to a dispute over Trump’s demand that the bill include $5 billion in taxpayer money to help pay for a wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The wall was a major 2016 campaign promise of Trump’s, who promised then that it would be paid for by Mexico, which has steadfastly refused to do so. Trump has since demanded that U.S. taxpayers pay for it at an estimated total cost of $23 billion.

He sees the wall as vital to stemming illegal immigration, while Democrats and some Republicans see it as an impractical and costly project. The standoff over Trump’s demand for funding will be a test for Congress when it returns next week.

Trump tweeted on Saturday that the deaths of two migrant children this month who had been taken into U.S. custody after trying to cross the southern border were “strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies.”

It was unclear exactly which policies Trump was referring to, but his aides have referred to U.S. laws and court rulings – including laws passed with bipartisan support – that govern the conditions under which children and families can be detained as “loopholes” that encourage illegal immigration.

On Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen visited Border Patrol stations in Texas after her agency instituted expanded medical checks of migrant children following the two deaths. She is also due to visit Yuma, Arizona, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Saturday.

In the interim, thousands of employees of federal agencies such as the Homeland Security, Justice, Commerce, Interior, Transportation, Agriculture and other departments were staying at home on furlough or soon to be working without pay.

For instance, members of the U.S. Coast Guard will receive their final paychecks of the year on Monday, the service said in a statement on its website on Friday after previously warning that payments would be delayed due to the shutdown.

“The administration, the Department of Homeland Security [DHS], and the Coast Guard have identified a way to pay our military workforce on Dec. 31, 2018,” the service website read.

That paycheck will be their last until the government reopens.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also said on Friday that it would resume issuing new flood insurance policies during the shutdown, reversing an earlier decision.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Katanga Johnson in Washington; additional reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ben Blanchard and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft

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