The Chinese government is increasingly using the country’s ever-evolving digital technology. Censorship, disinformation and strict control of religious groups have increased. China’s methods of operation are also attracting interest in other authoritarian countries.
In March 2022, in the shadow of the corona pandemic, extensive restrictions on the use of the Internet were imposed on Chinese churches.
In response to the administration’s actions, some pastors have begun using voice messages on social media such as WeChat. That way, they don’t have to submit the content of their sermons to the authorities.
Christian content was still available online in 2022, but access to material is becoming more difficult all the time.
The Long Consequences of Digital Footprints
The development of technology has helped Chinese Christians to spread the gospel.
On the other hand, the downside is the longevity of digital footprints: events that are several years old, such as a raid on a Christian online bookstore, still affect customers caught there.
It seems that there are more and more risks associated with digital platforms and their use can have far-reaching negative consequences for Christians.
China has also shown the way to other countries.
Apps designed to monitor and prevent the spread of the corona pandemic have not been banned, but have been reprogrammed. In the last WWL (World Watch List) reporting period, authorities have increased control over social media, for example by shifting responsibility for its content to technology companies.
As for ordinary citizens, the possibilities of using the Internet are narrowing. The change especially affects Christians, because they are seen as part of the sphere of influence of Western countries.
Authoritarian development is accelerating
The ever-changing digital communications infrastructure itself is potentially dangerous. Huawei’s security system and its links to the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party are unclear.
The threats are not limited to China either. WeChat warned foreign users of the app that their data — usage history, comments and likes — would be sent to tracking centers in China.
China has also led the way for other countries, especially in terms of surveillance technology and redefining human rights. These countries include, for example, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, the South Asian countries of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Malaysia and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Authoritarian development is also an important trend of change in many other regions, such as North and East Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.
Christians as a thorn in the flesh
In authoritarian countries following the example of China, the presence of Christian communities is already a thorn in the side of the administrative system. Especially when Christians are trying to defend their rights.
Authoritarian rulers put great pressure on church leaders. The demands of respect for human rights, free participation in society, the rule of law and the transparency of elections have not led to changes, because when responding to them, they appeal to the “stability” and “security” that came with state control.
Christians who oppose the ruling party may be labeled troublemakers or even terrorists. Arrests, destruction of church buildings and cancellation of church records can result.