The issue of religious freedom has been high on the news agenda this week after U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, paid a visit to Taiwan.
The fact that an American Ambassador paid a formal visit to Taiwan is an important one and shows that the U.S is willing to act on the recently-passed Taiwan Travel Act.
Brownback is not just an advocate for religious rights, he is a formal Ambassador who heads the Office of International Religious Freedom in the U.S. Department of State. He is a senior U.S. Government official and his presence in Taiwan and his meeting with the President of Taiwan is a significant forward step in U.S.-Taiwanese relations.
The choice of the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom as a visitor to Taiwan is also a very apt one and highlights a stark divide between Taiwan and Communist China.
Religious freedom in China and Taiwan
While the two countries have much in common at a cultural level, there are enormous differences between democratic Taiwan and authoritarian China. Religious freedom is one of the most obvious.
In Communist China, all religions are subject to degrees of oppression, but some suffer outright persecution. It must never be forgotten that there are currently as many as two million Uighur Muslims locked up in concentration camps being brainwashed with Communist ideology and forced to abandon their religious beliefs and traditions if they ever want to be released.
The lack of international action on this horrific state of affairs is truly shocking. Taiwan and whoever believes in basic human rights should be shouting from the rooftops to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of this Muslim holocaust being inflicted on their own people by the Communist regime in China.
In contrast, Taiwan has a growing Muslim population, an increasing number of mosques and Muslim-friendly restaurants and is actively targeting Muslim visitors through various schemes to encourage Muslim-friendly hotels and visa-free travel from Muslim countries.
While in China, Islam is viewed as a threat to the dominance of Communist ideology, in Taiwan it is just another religion that anyone is welcome to practice freely.
It is not just Islam which has been targeted by the CCP either. Christians have suffered routine oppression for many years in China as have Buddhists. The recent, senseless destruction of a statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy in the protected Wuwushui Ecological Scenic Area of Hebei Province by Communist Party authorities is just one of many examples of this.
The occupation of Tibet
Ambassador Brownback's visit also coincided with the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion when the people rose up against occupying Chinese forces and the Dalai Lama ended up having to flee his homeland.
In Taiwan, people took to the streets to march in support of human rights and religious freedom for the Tibetan people, who have suffered decades of oppression at the hands of the CCP.
China’s response was for the state media to, without a hint of irony, praise the 1959 event as the start of “democratic reform” and claim life for the people of Tibet was better now. There was, unsurprisingly, no reference to their systematic destruction of Buddhist culture or the ongoing religious repression in this occupied state.
There was also no opportunity for people to visit Tibet over the anniversary to see what life is like there for themselves or ask the people of Tibet their own opinion. The Communist Party blocked all foreigners from visiting the region citing concerns over ‘altitude sickness’ as their reason.
Religious freedom or unification with China?
This laughable excuse sums up the CCP’s stance on religious freedom. In a speech given at the American Institute in Taiwan, Ambassador Brownback said, “I don’t understand why in China, the government will view religion as a threat.”
The truth is he probably knows all too well why the CCP is scared of religion. It is something they cannot control and which inspires more devoted loyalty than most people will show to the party.
It is a stance which also creates a curious contradiction here in Taiwan. Most of the pro-China voices in Taiwan are elderly people, yet it is this demographic which is also the most religious.
When discussing the issue of cross-straits relations and unification, it is worth reminding them that should China take control of Taiwan, they will have to accept that their religion will, pretty quickly, be severely repressed.
They essentially have a simple choice. Continue to practice their religious beliefs freely and without state interference while living in Taiwan or submit to Communist China and abandon their religion.
Speaking in relation to China, Ambassador Brownback said they were at a "fork in the road" and that the time has come for them to choose either the path of freedom, or a path of continued oppression.
He is right. But it is also the case that people in Taiwan face a similar dilemma. Do they want continued freedom, including the right to freedom of religion, or do they want to choose oppression, authoritarianism, and Communism?
If they truly value their religion and their right to practice it, there is no question that life will be much better as part of a free Taiwan than it ever will be as a far-flung province of Communist China.