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Sputnik via AP

Traffic passes beneath an overpass in Beijing (Sputnik via AP)

Surveillance within, threats without

China’s version of Big Brother works to monitor the movement of citizens and control foreign media messaging

The latest China-related news reveals that Beijing is tightening control over not only China’s citizens, but over its public image overseas—with threats aimed at those who dare criticize the government.

Inside the country, China is rolling out a program that would require new cars to have radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips installed on the windshield, providing information on the vehicles as they pass reading devices on the sides of the road, according to The Wall Street Journal. The government claims the purpose of the chips is to study traffic congestion on roads in order to reduce pollution, but given China’s growing surveillance program, the system would likely be used to monitor citizens.

The government claims the purpose of the chips is to study traffic congestion on roads in order to reduce pollution, but the system would likely be used to monitor citizens.

The program, mandatory for all new vehicles starting in 2019, is the latest step towards China’s goal of tracking all its citizens. Already, a network of surveillance cameras with facial recognition software blanket China’s cities and feed information to the centralized “Sharp Eyes” system.

Today China’s most sophisticated surveillance system is in the western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority. China has locked up hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in “reeducation camps” for practicing their religion, accessing banned sites on their phones, or having family members studying abroad.

A report by Foreign Policy revealed that Western investors, including firms like JPMorgan, Vanguard, and Fidelity, have invested heavily in two of China’s major security camera companies, Hikvision and Dahua Technology. The two companies have won at least $1.2 billion in government contracts for surveillance projects across Xinjiang targeting Uighurs. Companies like Intel and Nvidia are also helping Hikvision and Dahua improve their artificial intelligence capabilities, Foreign Policy reported.

China’s surveillance is extremely concerning for groups that Beijing considers politically sensitive: Uighurs, Tibetans, dissidents, and human rights advocates. And as the government devises new ways to track its people inside China, it’s also finding new ways to pressure those who have fled the country. One method: preventing family members—including American citizens—from leaving China.

Last year, Beijing stopped at least three U.S. citizens, including a pregnant woman, from exiting the country, according to The Daily Beast. The State Department’s travel advisory for China states that China uses exit bans on U.S. citizens not only in cases of business disputes, court orders, and government investigations, but also “to compel their family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigators.”

John Kamm of the U.S.-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation told The Daily Beast he knew of two dozen cases in the past year and a half where Americans were not allowed to leave China. Last year, Beijing prevented University of Technology Sydney associate professor Feng Chongyi from leaving the country while on a trip to research Chinese human rights lawyers. Authorities finally allowed Feng to return home after international coverage of his situation.

Last week, China continued its interference in Australia by reportedly threatening the TV producers of a scheduled news segment about China’s growing influence in the Pacific region. Kirsty Thomson, executive producer of Australia’s 60 Minutes, said she received an angry phone call from the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

“Take this down and take it to your leaders,” yelled Cao Saxian, the embassy’s head of media affairs. According to Australia’s 9News, Cao claimed the show’s crew had illegally filmed the exterior of the Chinese Embassy on the island of Vanuatu and flown a drone over it. Thomson countered that they had filmed the embassy from a public space and the drone did not fly over the embassy.

“You will listen,” Cao continued, shouting over the phone, according to Thomson. “There must be no more misconduct in the future.”

Standing up to power:

In an interview in The New York Review of Books, Guo Yuhua, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and an outspoken public intellectual, speaks out about what it’s like to have her own censor, how the Communist Party has destroyed real Chinese culture, and how Chinese college students are brainwashed. “In China, everyone criticizes the market and capitalism,” Guo said. “That’s really easy. That’s safe. But that’s not China’s problem. The problem isn’t capitalism. It’s power.”

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Words aptly spoken

From Balaam to the Broadway District, God can send His Word by means we least expect

I live in a neighborhood that seems to be the proselytism hub of Los Angeles. Let me describe why.

Recently, I was doing a quick run around my block when a woman jumped out of a corner, scaring me out of my skin. I skidded to such a sudden stop that my knee made a resentful “pop!” sound. The Hispanic-looking, guava-shaped woman, who had a long jet-black braid that swung near her hips, thrust a pamphlet at me and said, “Jesús te ama!” I refused the pamphlet, and though I smiled at her, frankly I was a little annoyed.

A while later, I was walking out of a Mexican grocery store with a carton of eggs when the same woman accosted me again. “Jesus loves you!” she declared in English this time, waving a pamphlet in my face. I shook my head no thank you, but she insisted that I take one: “En Inglés! English, sí!” As I marched back home, I saw several crumpled, damp pamphlets littering the sidewalk.

Two Sundays ago, I was strolling the downtown Broadway Theater District when I heard beautiful choral hymns. I turned and saw a group of people in Amish-style clothing—bonnets, plain solid-colored dresses, and trousers—singing classic hymns a capella by an old theater, swaying with half-closed eyes. Meanwhile, similarly attired women stood across the street passing out what looked like gospel tracts. I loved the singing, but I was confused by the clothing: Are they real Amish folks? If not, why were they dressed in such clothing? At a time when people dismiss Christianity as antiquated and irrelevant, why dress up in a way that further perpetuates that idea?

There’s more: About a week earlier, I was driving up a street in my neighborhood when I heard loud honks and swear words. The traffic in my lane was moving more slowly than usual, which meant cars were crawling at the speed of an old lady in high heels. When I finally swung into the other lane and zoomed up, I saw a round-faced bald man in white shirt and black pants, waving a white wooden cross. The words “JESUS SAVES” were painted in black across the vertical and horizontal planks, with red ink dripping on the spots where Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed.

I knew this guy—I had seen him several times doing the same evangelistic shtick in various parts of my neighborhood. As usual, the man had headphones on, presumably blasting loud music as he danced up and down the street—legs kicking, arms pumping the cross up and down, sweat pouring down his face. If not for the goofy grin on his face and his churchy dress shoes, he looked like he was doing a Richard Simmons workout.

He was also completely oblivious. Cars zipped all around him, and one irate driver in a fancy yellow car slammed his fist onto his horn, blasting out a drawn-out, outraged, Hooooonnnk! But the gleeful disrupter of traffic shimmied on: He had his music and his cross, and he was doing the work of the Lord, so he looked quite content.

I wondered what passers-by must think of Christianity…

I wondered how effective these street evangelists were, wondered what passers-by must think of Christianity, and I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. But I also knew I came from a perhaps jaded perspective as someone who was born into a Christian family, who’s been evangelized to by my missionary-pastor father since before I was potty-trained, who’s perhaps a bit too sensitive to what secular culture thinks about religion. Who knows, maybe there’s one lonely heart who needs to hear “Jesus loves you” and be invited to church, one city-weary body who needs to hear beautiful songs of worship, and one downcast soul who needs to see a happy man dance in the middle of the street.

Then, the day before I wrote this, I became that weary, downcast soul. Something happened that upset me, and I was sitting alone on the outdoor patio of a shopping complex in downtown LA. It was early evening, when most of the city employees and bankers and lawyers were leaving their offices. Bodies in suits and pencil skirts swarmed around me in blurry streams, and bright-colored shopping bags, cupcake boxes, and briefcases bobbed around my peripheral vision.

All that activity and chatter, but I could see nothing, hear nothing, think nothing but the darkness in my head. I had brought a book I planned to read, but the words on the pages dissolved into illegible blots as my eyes pooled with tears.

Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Here you go,” he said, handing me a neatly folded napkin. I started, surprised, then thanked him. He was a middle-aged guy with gray hair and a look of concern on his lined, gentle face. “You OK?” he asked. I nodded, feeling terribly embarrassed, and turned away to pretend to read.

After a while, that gray-haired man’s companion, a curly-haired Hispanic, also tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said. “I just wanted to share with you something that gives me great comfort when I’m feeling down.” Using the Bible app on his iPhone, he read to me Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Then he said, “I know life can be hard, but know that one day all that suffering will be over. And please know that somebody cares. God cares. He cares for you.”

Well, so much for trying to put on a dry face. My eyes filled again with fat tears, and I blubbered out my gratitude. It was a Bible verse that I had memorized and quoted numerous times. But at that moment, hearing it from a stranger in a busy corridor who noticed me and felt prompted to read the Word of God out loud to me, that piece of Scripture felt like a precious gift, hand-chosen and special-delivered with my name on it. “Thank you, I needed to hear that,” I told the two kind strangers.

We chatted, and I soon found out these two men were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were taking a break while their wives stood on the sidewalk, inviting passers-by into conversation meant to win new converts. I was crestfallen, of course. I knew Jehovah’s Witnesses were very active proselytizers. How many poor Jehovah’s Witnesses had knocked on the door of my parents’ house, only to have my father evangelize back to them with a three-hour sermon? I had passed by their evangelism team downtown countless times, and had always ignored them.

But these two strangers didn’t engage me in a theological debate. We talked about the best Korean and Mexican food in LA, about our cultural backgrounds, and about mission work. It was a nice conversation, and though we have theological differences—and they are major ones—they gave me what I needed at that precise moment: A reminder from God’s Word that God cares for me.

God cares enough about me to encourage me through the mouths of two people who don’t even share my faith. Regardless of the mouthpiece, whenever God desires to reach someone, He does it—and maybe He’ll even do it through a man having a fun time on the streets.

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Singapore Press via AP

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in Singapore on June 12 (Singapore Press via AP)

Remember those in prison

Hopes of North Korean diplomacy shouldn’t overshadow the plight of Christians and others suffering under the regime

After President Donald Trump’s historic visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Trump declared he had “solved” the problem of a nuclear threat from the recluse nation.

Let’s hope so, but let’s also wait and see whether North Korea follows through with its promises on denuclearization.

Trump seemed charmed by Kim, saying in one interview that North Koreans love the dictator. This comes less than five months after Trump declared in his State of the Union address, “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”

A landmark 2014 report by the United Nations described a litany of North Korean atrocities: “beatings, starvation, exposure to cold, various torture techniques, rape, infanticide, and public executions.”

In 2016, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide described testimony from other defectors: “Christians are reported to have suffered brutal violence. Forms of torture include beatings with fists or implements such as electric rods, wooden pokers, metal poles, water torture through forced submersion, and being used as test subjects for medical training and experimentation.”

After the Singapore summit, a reporter asked Trump if the pair had discussed human rights, and specifically asked about the “fate of the Christians” in a regime that doesn’t allow freedom of worship.

Trump said they had discussed the issue “very strongly,” and that “things will be happening.”

Again, let’s hope so, since some Christians are among the thousands of North Koreans exiled to a network of brutal prison camps for dissidents and other enemies of the regime.

During the course of the Singapore summit, I thought about Jung Gwang Il, a North Korean defector who has described being forced to stack dead bodies next to a latrine in the winter during his time in a North Korean prison. When the bodies thawed in the spring, guards forced the prisoners to bury them. The victims had died from extreme labor, illness, and starvation.

Jung now operates a group called “No Chain” that uses drones and other methods to get information into North Korea—often on USBs loaded with TV shows and movies that reveal life outside the regime. The group also produced the “Stealth Gospel”— taking 32 songs praising the North Korean regime and turning them into Christian praise songs.

Christian conversions aren’t unusual among North Korean defectors, and author Melanie Kirkpatrick has described what it’s like when Chinese Christians show kindness to a North Korean escapee: “It’s usually the first time in his life he’s encountered someone who has helped him out of the goodness of his heart. And it has a profound effect on these people.”

It should also have a profound effect on Christians around the world when we learn about believers willing to suffer and die for their faith. And it should bring to mind the Bible’s admonition not to forget them: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.”


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