An official believed to be behind the forcible removal of 1,700 crosses from churches in eastern China has been promoted by the Communist government, and it's feared this move signals that the heightened Christian persecution might carry on.
Xia Baolong, who supposedly led cross removals in Zhejiang province as the provincial party committee secretary, has been elected as vice-chairman and secretary-general of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, according to UCAnews.
"Though Xia's post now will not have a direct influence on religious policy, the CPPCC as a united front institution is governed by someone who is hostile to Christianity. It is unavoidable to regard this as a setback," professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was quoted as saying.
Xia, who has been a trustworthy subordinate of President Xi Jinping, was the provincial party committee secretary in Zhejiang from 2013 until April 2017, when he was transferred to an apparently insignificant post of deputy director of the environment and resources protection committee. However, that surprising transfer was not punishment but a test before promotion.
"After Xia was transferred to an idle post, it was speculated that forcible cross removal would stop in Zhejiang. However, cross removal never stopped in the province and other provinces, which reflects there is no change in nature from the central government to the local authorities on the suppression of religions," Sang Pu, a regime critic in Hong Kong, was quoted as saying.
"Before giving an important job to them, he must first take away their former official position, make them fear and not know what to do, and then look at their loyalty. They would be offered the higher position after they pass the test — the tactic used by an emperor to manipulate his bureaucrats," Sang added.
The Chinese government routinely arrests and cracks down on local Christians.
ChinaAid President Bob Fu earlier told The Christian Post that "the top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of the Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence. It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the party."
Underground churches have been raided, pastors have been arrested, rooftop crosses have been taken down, and human rights activists have been harassed and tortured under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, aimed at suppressing the rise of Christianity in the country.
Last week, a Chinese Christian woman, Zhou Jinxia, was reportedly arrested after she traveled from Liaoning province to Beijing and attempted to preach to President Jinping, holding a sign that read, "God loves the people of the world and is calling out to Xi Jinping."
Earlier this month, Father Francis Liu, a Chinese priest, shared a video showing local officials tearing down crosses from the Shangqiu Catholic Church South Cathedral during a major raid in Henan.
The cathedral, which was sanctioned by the government, was subjected to five hours of occupation, during which crosses were removed from the building.
As Fu told CP, the government seems to be wanting to "Sinicize" religion, meaning it wants to promote and guide religion that is Chinese in orientation.