Vatican officials should think twice about dealing with the Chinese government, according to Trump’s top official for religious liberty.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Freedom, made his comments after it was revealed Chinese state-backed hackers had targeted the Vatican and Hong Kong-based Catholic entities ahead of talks on the renewal of a 2018 agreement on the appointment of bishops in the Communist country.
“I would really hope that the Vatican would look at this and see what they are dealing with,” Brownback told Crux on Wednesday.
“If I were a Vatican official and seeing this is who I am dealing with, and this is how they are going to deal with me, it would cause me great pause to think about how can I trust and work with these other individuals that are spying on me,” he said.
The former Kansas governor, who was tapped by President Donald Trump to take on the religious freedom role in 2017, was earlier this month sanctioned by the Chinese government for his outspoken criticism of human rights abuses in the country. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with Congressman Chris Smith, were also banned from visiting China.
“To get this designation because I was declaring and pointing out the war on faith that the Chinese Communist Party is doing, I deem that a badge of honor. I will take that,” he said.
Brownback, who converted to Catholicism in 2002, said the fact there is “so much religious persecution of all types going on in China” should be of particular concern to the Vatican.
“I would really hope that the Vatican officials would look at this and say, this is not a group that can be trusted for us to negotiate and work with, with how they are operating today,” he said.
Throughout the interview, Brownback often reiterated his criticism was aimed at China’s rulers, and not the Chinese people.
“My daughter is from China. I love the Chinese people, but the Communist Party is at war with faith, and communism has been from its inception, so this isn’t really anything new to communism,” he explained.
Religious persecution in China has come under increased scrutiny in recent months after several reports have highlighted the treatment of China’s Muslim Uyghur population, located in the western province of Xinjiang.
More than 1 million Uyghurs are estimated to be held in internment camps, where former inmates say they are forced to renounce their religion and culture and swear loyalty to the Communist Party. In addition, the Chinese government has been accused of implementing a draconian birth control regime on the Uyghur population, while encouraging the country’s majority Han Chinese to immigrate to the region.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – an independent agency separate from the office headed by Brownback – called for a U.N. and State Department investigation, saying the Chinese government’s birth control campaign “might meet the legal criteria for genocide.”
Brownback wouldn’t use the world “genocide,” noting it’s a legal designation reserved to the Secretary of State, but insisted the U.S. government has taken a series of “very aggressive acts, and we continue to push aggressively for human rights and religious freedom in China and will continue to do that.”
He noted that the Trump administration had issued sanctions on Chen Quanguo, the party chairman of Xinjiang who was previously in charge of Tibet, as well as on companies exporting products made by forced labor in the region.
“The United States government has taken the most aggressive action of any nation in the world to push back against these human rights abuses coming out of Xinjiang and I would also tell people, it won’t stop in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party is going to push these policies and these systems around the world,” the ambassador said.
Brownback noted it is not only the Muslim Uyghur population being targeted: Christians, Buddhists, and the Falun Gong are also suffering abuses under the communist regime.
“It’s a full-scale attack on all faiths,” he said.
He also noted that a new security law imposed on Hong Kong – which has kept its civil liberties after it was transferred from the United Kingdom in 1997 – poses a threat to religious freedom.
“They had a robust and free society, but you can just see that shrinking and the tentacles of the Communist Party going in,” Brownback told Crux, adding that China signed a legally binding international agreement with the UK mandating the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
“The Chinese government – the Communist Party – is violating this directly,” he said.
Brownback added that China is following the playbook of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“This is a government seeking domination, and having to do so over its own people, and also overseas and abroad,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome