On this episode of American Thought Leaders, Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek talks with Pastor Bob Fu, who escaped persecution in China 20 years ago to found China Aid, a Texas-based Christian nonprofit promoting religious freedom for all.
They discuss the reasons for Pastor Fu’s involvement in the newly formed Committee on the Present Danger: China, which seeks to educate about the “existential threat” the Chinese Communist Party poses to America and the rest of the free world. They also discuss why 2018 was one of the worst years for religious persecution in China in decades, and how the newly formed Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China is trying to address this.
Jan Jekielek: So let’s dive right into this newly formed committee on the “Present Danger: China,” formed in the model of the previous Committee on Present Danger, which was, of course, focused many years ago on the Soviet Union and arguably played a very significant role. You’re part of the organizing group of this new committee “Present Danger: China.” Can you tell me a little bit about how this was formed and what inspired you to dive right in?
Bob Fu: Yeah. This committee … of course, it was initiated by two extremely outstanding leaders on security, and basically the American democratic values of former President Reagan’s adviser Frank Gaffney and Brian Kennedy. They have been deeply concerned about the emerging threat from the communist regime. And me, of course, for really over a decade, we have been talking about the Chinese communist regime’s threat—not only really to American interests—it’s a threat to the global free society. It’s a really existential threat now we can tell the civilized world.
So when I’m approached by Brian and Frank, who said we need to really launch a public education campaign to raise awareness, to wake up the sleeping American society to this real threat. I’m very supportive, very glad to be included as one of the founding members. The committee consists of members from the national security, cybersecurity, Defense Department, and intelligence community, and human-rights defenders like me. And even with the component of religious freedom, because certainly we have seen one of the signature features of the communist party is they have been launching this war against faith. And, in essence, it is a war against civilization.
I’m really all for it. I really want to see a moment happen in the United States and globally to really wake up. This not only a sleeping kind of a tiger, it’s already a gigantic tiger that we may be too late to control, if we don’t take action right now.
Mr. Jekielek: So you work a lot with people who are persecuted for their faith, specifically Christians in China. But you, yourself, many years ago experienced that and made it out. Can you tell me a little more about how things have changed from the time when you experienced persecution to today?
Mr. Fu: Yeah. I was an atheist in college and almost joined the Communist Party, and then participated in the students’ movement in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, then became an honorable church leader. And my wife and I were both imprisoned, and accused of [being] illegal evangelists in Beijing.
Mr. Jekielek: So after Tiananmen, somehow you became a person of faith from being an atheist.
Mr. Fu: Yes. That’s right. So, then my wife and I were both thrown into prison. And at the time, we thought: Oh, you know, this is the first part of the Chinese house church … we call it prison theology time. Almost exclusively, every house church leader in the early generation had been imprisoned. The pastor who baptized me spent over 16 years in prison. The pastor in Beijing who married my wife and me, Pastor Allen Yuan, spent over 22 years in prison for his faith.
Mr. Jekielek: They were persecuted purely for practicing their faith and inspiring others to practice it?
Mr. Fu: That’s right. They were purely persecuted for practicing their faith peacefully and faithfully. … In that sense, they were imprisoned for 10 years, 11 years. Even now, there are so many. Last year, alone we recorded at least 5,000 arrests, and at least over 500 pastors and Christian leaders were formally imprisoned and sentenced.
Mr. Jekielek: What I’m trying to get at is, has the persecution of people of faith … Which direction has it gone since the time when you had to flee?
Mr. Fu: Yeah. Certainly, 2018 is marked as the worst year of religious persecution in perhaps 40 years. I have not seen this kind of a level of persecution, both in quantity and in the degree of persecution, since the end of the Cultural Revolution. For the first time, this religious persecution is not only just limited to Protestant, Christian communities, but to Catholics, to Falun Gong practitioners, to, of course, the Uygur, Muslims, and Kazakhs in Xinjiang—that’s another major disaster—and to Tibetans, of course. So to the people of faith, last year, really, was the worst year. We have never seen this kind of a degree of persecution.
According to our only investigation, just for Protestant Christians alone, we have seen thousands of churches were being banned, destroyed, and the crosses forcibly demolished, and pastors were being jailed. And also at least 50,000 believers were physically and mentally tortured. We have seen in the Early Rain Covenant Church, a 500-member church in Chengdu on December 9, all of a sudden 300 members were arrested. And the pastor, who was a public intellectual kind of a lawyer, … Wang Yi, he was arrested, and his wife, both of them were already indicted as inciting the subversion of state power. They are facing up to 15-year sentences for purely leading a house church. And across the board, a nationwide campaign for the first time in the name of so-called sinicization. …
It’s really a kind of Nazification—that’s the closest term I can find, Faxisi Hua [becoming fascist], in the 1930s when Nazis forced the church to [put] Nazi symbols on their church. And today, every government-sanctioned church is mandated to [put up] a president or chairman or empress’s portrait and Chairman Mao’s portrait, and the crosses outside were forcibly taken down.
Mr. Jekielek: Basically puts the party above the church and—
Mr. Fu: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s the idea, right?
Mr. Fu: Yeah. Xi Jinping wants actually to be a God. So that in that sense, he wants to compete, and he doesn’t like the fact that there is any other God above him.
Mr. Jekielek: Earlier this year, you and another group formed another committee, and this was the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom [in China], basically with the support of Ambassador Brownback and basically the—
Mr. Fu: Religious Freedom Roundtable.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. So can you tell me a little more about the development of that?
Mr. Fu: Yes. With the encouragement of Ambassador Sam Brownback and, of course, over the years, the religious freedom campaigns and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle: Congressman Frank Wolf, who retired, and Chris Smith and, of course, James McGovern from the Democrat side. They always have been encouraging faith communities who were persecuted within the China context to be united in solidarity. Because, after all, the freedom of practicing our faith is the most fundamental freedom and value that we all cherish, despite our theological or doctrinal or faith—belief differences. So based on that, I am so glad—I mean, really, that’s a miracle within the China community. We have this Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China launched on Capitol Hill. And the purpose is really to build a solidarity united front, in that sense, a good united front to deal with this evil regime and to expose what the persecution in China is, and to act in unity to tackle these specific issues and also to advance those items, like letters or legislation in Congress and in other capital cities of the world.
Mr. Jekielek: So the big question for a lot of Americans is we can see there’s a big problem in China at many levels, certainly on the human-rights side, certainly on the persecution of religion side. But how does that impact Americans directly? Why is there this present danger with, and a need to focus on China? How is this connected—this persecution that you’ve been describing in China against faith groups?
Mr. Fu: In this global village, everything [that] happens in another part of the world is interrelated, especially with the world’s two largest economies—the United States and China. And the theory 20-some years ago, when the so-called PNTR—the permanent normal trade status—and the WTO were debated at Capitol Hill. The prevailing theory, and rather naively, I have thought that a long time ago, that more engagement, more trade, and more cooperation, and more appeasement with the communist regime would inevitably bring more freedom [to] middle-class democracy. But look—
Mr. Jekielek: It didn’t work out that way.
Mr. Fu: It worked in the opposite. The Communist Party proved to be adaptive, more vicious, more aggressive. And, really, by using all the tools they have … now, I think that really this big tiger is already growing too fat, you know, grew too strong in some sense. As former Speaker Newt Gingrich said, in several areas, America is losing, you know, the 5G technology, the military, even technology in outer space, the South China Sea, you know, many things. And I think, honestly, even the top Communist Party’s effort and in penetrating in the free society by sending 100 Confucius Institute in American universities who are almost like the Communist Party’s branches planted with full funding from the propaganda department. [They] are doing their propaganda in American society and European capitals. And they are stealing everything from the seed in Iowa to the intellectual properties in Silicon Valley. And they are using their financial power, purchasing propaganda in the nation’s capital and—you name it.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, like in The Washington Post.
Mr. Fu: Every morning, you have China Daily, the Communist Party’s top propaganda pages, appear with The Washington Post. I mean, is there any time that the People’s Daily would have an insert of The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal talking about the China threat and talk about the Communist Party’s dictatorship, right? Talk about the persecution against its own citizens? No. Actually, I just noticed in the past few days, two lawyers were censored by the Bureau of Justice for climbing the internet firewall on Twitter and putting a “like.” They just pushed the “like” button—they were censored. [There was] a message like, “not friendly toward great leaders in the Communist Party.”
Mr. Jekielek: So, recently, Xi Jinping was speaking with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in Beijing. And they were discussing—well, Xi was encouraging global governance, the sort of increase around the concept of global governance and also encouraging that China would become kind of a keeper of the international order. I wonder if you could just tell me what you think of that?
Mr. Fu: That both tell the Communist Party’s ambitious agenda is not ended within the Chinese border, and also the irony that the free and democratic world is facing. The danger is that the Communist Party is using this “One Belt, One Road” initiative. You know, build military bases from Djibouti to Sri Lanka using this debt diplomacy. And they want to, of course, take advantage of the U.N. system. All of a sudden, one of the most corrupted and tyrannical governments wants to be the protector of the world order for global governance. The Communist Party certainly would not rank in any form of transparency, freedom of press, any modern freedoms as the best protector of anything on this front.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, certainly, at the bottom of the list in most cases.
Mr. Fu: Yeah, in most cases. And, of course, the irony is now all of a sudden, Xi Jinping was traveling around the globe proclaiming they want to be the protector, when they are persecuting their own citizens in their own country. And how many Falun Gong practitioners were tortured to death? Thousands. And how many Tibetans were self-immolated? Several hundred. You know, how many just even the Church of God, you know, Church of Almighty God, you know, this sect were tortured to death? How many house church leaders, how many Catholic churches were being destroyed? As late as this week, we have seen churches were being demolished, against the will of the believers. And we have seen many, many human-rights defenders—at least 300 were lawyers. Legal activists were being not only incarcerated, imprisoned, but tortured. And the most well-known human-rights defender, the conscience of China—lawyer Gao Zhisheng—has been missing for over one and half years, again, after this most brutal torture.
Mr. Jekielek: After all sorts of persecution over decades, basically.
Mr. Fu: And the other lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, who was just defending the religious freedom cases and has been imprisoned, and secretly trialed, and secretly sentenced, and nobody ever from any family member or legal representative of his family entrusted has even seen him for the past over three years already. [Is] this really a good sign of the leader of protecting world order or what kind of order, if we allow Xi Jinping to be the head of this protector.
Mr. Jekielek: What evidence do you see as being kind of first and foremost in your mind that shows us that the Chinese regime is looking to expand all of these things that it’s been doing within its own borders … What’s most stark in your mind?
Mr. Fu: The evidence is everywhere almost. You have seen the Chinese regime using the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It’s really a modern day … it’s named by the current Malaysia prime minister as the new colonialism: it’s the Communist Party’s version of colonialism, a deft diplomacy named by Vice President Pence. You know, the kind of, using the Asian so-called infrastructure bank to give some loans to African countries or Southeast Asian countries. Now, [it’s] even penetrated into Italy, in the heart of the European Union, to build bridges or ports and essentially take over these really critical infrastructures.
And they are, of course, also expanding their ideology through the Confucius Institute globally. How many hundreds of thousands, really? I mean, I think thousands already globally, right? In Europe, in the United States, you know, fully founded by the propaganda department of the Communist Party. And militarily, you can tell what’s happening in the South China Sea. They are bullying Vietnam, the Philippines, and, of course, Taiwan. And their aggressiveness, also demonstrated in their cross-strait relationship in Taiwan; they’re penetrating deeply into the Taiwan society. I believe 90 percent of the Taiwan current media outlets are either owned or financially supported by Chinese Communist Party propaganda money. They’re interfering with this Taiwan election in massive ways. So economically, militarily, and culturally, ideologically, they are everywhere. And, of course, their spying network is everywhere from Boston to Iowa.
You know, from stealing the plant seeds to the intellectual property of the high-tech field in the universities. So these are really so obvious a threat. And, honestly, as a church leader, I even sense clearly the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in North American Chinese churches.
Mr. Jekielek: How does that manifest? That’s very interesting.
Mr. Fu: It’s manifested in several ways. First, the Communist Party uses influence of threat. Most of the Chinese, overseas Chinese, they want to go back to China with a visa if they join American citizenship. If they don’t have citizenship, of course, they could face arrest any time if they go back to China. So really—
Mr. Jekielek: There are examples, multiple examples of that.
Mr. Fu: Multiple examples like China Aid. We just want to educate churches about the persecution of our own faith —Christian brothers and sisters. You should care about them. This is in the scripture that you remember those who are in prison, as if you were in prison with them. And how many Chinese churches in North America, among 1,500 churches, who really, make a request to China Aid to ask for a newsletter, ask for some information? Almost zero. Over the past 15 years, maybe one or two. Maximum three churches who receive our information. And we even take the initiative by sending our newsletters over publications like our annual persecution report, documenting this persecution. And you know what? Some churches even returned this information with a note saying, “Please, we are scared. Don’t send this information … to us.”
Mr. Jekielek: They are scared? What are they scared of?
Mr. Fu: They don’t want to … he said, a Chinese spy will notice our address if you send to ours. This is real. And they said … One big church in Maryland even rescinded their invitation for me to speak at their mission conference, by out of the fear of one deacons, who came from mainland China, and said, “Oh, my family members are still in China. By inviting Bob Fu as a speaker, they would be jeopardized, in danger.” I mean, this is a kind of psychological warfare. Of course, they persecuted those who travel back to China. I have seen so many cases already. …The Chinese pastors or Christian believers, when they travel back to China, they immediately received threats and so-called warning by the state security agencies. Purposefully, some were told, “Don’t talk to that Bob Fu. Don’t get close to China Aid.” “Don’t …”
Of course, all these don’ts. And these are real threats. And even the physical threat happening in American communities from San Francisco to Flushing, in New York City. I mean, look at during the China’s National Day, you have Chinese flags hanging and promoted, and whenever there is a voice of disagreement, people were beaten up, physically—in the U.S.!
Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredible. So one thing to kind of finish up, this was a very important point you raised during the last committee on Present Danger Roundtable, if I recall. You mentioned that Taiwan is kind of becoming a case study of effective Chinese influence. When I say effective, I mean dangerously effective. Can you just tell me more about what you meant when you were talking about that, and how that applies to the rest of the world?
Mr. Fu: Yeah, I really have been observing Taiwan. Twenty-three million people, and one of the really best kind of democracy models, right?; in at least the Asia-Pacific, for years. Out of my recent trip in Taipei, I found, “Wow! Some cars have both a China flag —and the Communist Party’s flag” with big loudspeakers and broadcasting Communist Party’s propaganda on a Taipei street. And I said, “Wow, this is the most vivid example.” Showing like, you have the Nazis, you know, kind of are doing their propaganda on the street … [like] on the streets of Berlin. I mean, I’m not against the freedom of speech, but it shows when you turn on the TV in Taiwan you saw, I mean, those are overwhelmingly pro-China—some with subtlety, some with art. And you have CCTV propaganda that was freely kind of transmitted. You have the newspapers are just broadcasting the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s quotations and propaganda freely.
Mr. Jekielek: These are ostensibly free media, but they’re not so free anymore.
Mr. Fu: No, not free anymore. That’s a very scary scenario to see the Communist Party taking over the mass media in Taiwan. So that’s why I raise this case. And I feel, as a Chinese, as a Christian, as a pastor, for my faith, and for my conscience, we’re taught to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We need to really speak the truth as it is, and we can’t pretend with political correctness. So that’s my reason, to answer your first question.
I feel so compelled as an American citizen, out of my civil duty, when I [became] an American citizen, I pledged to the immigration judge that I would uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, to cherish and protect the freedom of this land. So, I will do this, both out of my faith and out of my civil duty.
Mr. Jekielek: [That’s a] powerful place to finish.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.