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Interview with Dr. James W. Carr, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

On December 21, the Chinese Communist Party sanctioned four members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) over their outspoken criticism of the Chinese regime. Secretary of State Blinken issued a statement in support of the commissioners on January 10th, calling the sanctions “yet another PRC affront to universal rights.” Intrepid Research sat down with one of the sanctioned commissioners, Dr. James W. Carr, to discuss this and the ongoing problem of religious persecution in China and around the world.

IR: How long have you served on the US commission for international religious freedom?

Carr: Almost three years. IR: And you were appointed by? Carr: [Congressman] Kevin McCarthy. IR: What was your first thought when you found out you had been sanctioned by the Chinese government? Carr: I was surprised, but not completely surprised. Two of our members got sanctioned last year, including Joe Manchin’s wife, Gayle. I got a lot of kidding about it. I looked at it as a badge of honor. Apparently, they didn’t do much research. When I was at Harding University, I started a Chinese student exchange program, where we’d have students from China come and study at Harding. So, I don’t hate China, but I’m disappointed in the way they treat religious minorities there. IR: I think it’s important to make a distinction between the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party, which runs the government. Carr: Exactly right. I’ve been to China a couple of times and I just think some of the people there are the greatest in the world. But, I’m very disappointed in how the Chinese Communist Party treats people, especially the Uyghurs and the Christian community. There’s no reason they should be threatened by these people. IR: In your mind, is the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party the worst religious persecutor in the world? Carr: Let’s say one of the worst. There are some others that are pretty tough. One that I have become very disappointed in is Nigeria. We hear stories all the time about how Christians are treated there. Absolutely incredible. Then you’ve got North Korea, Iran, several of the “stans”, Afghanistan and others. It’s a very tough world right now. In our hemisphere here, two countries have been involved in religious persecution, Cuba and Nicaragua. They’re not on the “Countries of Particular Concern,” but they’re on the Special Watch List. IR: Would you call what the Chinese government is doing in Xinjiang genocide? Carr: You could call it that. You hear stories of death. You hear stories of rape, sterilization of women. They put these folks in re-education camps. One of the members of our commission is a Uyghur. He is very concerned about what’s happening there. The things we’ve heard are incredible. IR: We’ve all heard about the Uyghur camps in Xinjiang and the persecution of the Falun Gong. What other sorts of persecution is taking place in China, particularly with Christians? Carr: We’ve heard a lot about Christian persecution as well. When I was there a few years ago, I would get asked about my faith, and I would say I was a Christian. Then, as I would be taken to the airport or something, people would whisper to me that they were Christians, too. I hate to see that they have been made to worship underground. Christians who follow the teachings of Christ are honest and people of integrity. They’re people who treat others like they want to be treated. There’s so many positive things and I can’t imagine that they’re a threat to China. Here’s a country of almost 1.4 billion people. Depending on what number you see, 100 million of them have some faith in Christ. How can they be a threat to the country? And the Uyghurs are a much smaller group, how can these guys be a threat? Several years ago, we had the vice-governor of a Chinese province visit Harding, where he wanted to send students. I asked him, "Why Harding? His answer, 'We are having a crisis of character in China and we want them at a faith-based school.'" IR: Is any progress being made on holding China accountable for its religious persecution? Carr: They must be listening to us, because they sanctioned four of us this year, and we think they would not have done had they not felt like we were making some progress. Our Commission is just a group of nine and a staff of 20, but we are saying things that are important for people to hear, and it’s not just on China. China seems to get a higher profile than some of the other countries, and it could be because Nury Turkel is a member, a Uyghur who has schooled us all on what’s happening there. I think we are making a difference. Otherwise, why would they identify the four of us? Some other much higher profile people have also been marked – Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and other members of the Senate. IR: What measures or options does the US government have to pressure China on this issue? Carr: This is not a gun issue. We don’t need to go to war with them over this. In 1948, the UN voted to give a bill of rights to every citizen in the world with the right to worship being one of those freedoms. [The Universal Declaration of Human Rights]. China has not held up their end of the bargain. You don’t have freedom to worship there. I think we just need to keep bringing it up and talking about it and educating citizens of the world. There are several [Confucius] Institutes on college campuses and there’s now some pressure on these institutes to close. But, we have to somehow find a way to deal with China. Their students are willing to work very hard to get what they want versus our students who may not be working and preparing as hard. Our young people need to wake up and American citizens need to wake up. I think pressure has to be through negotiation. We need to be careful who we’re buying from. Walmart is looking to restrict products from Xinjiang and now the Chinese government is telling Walmart to be careful. It’s tough. I hope Biden has the wherewithal to take care of this. I’m concerned about that. IR: Do you think the issue of religious freedom is a priority of the Biden administration? How would you compare its attention to this issue against the previous administration? Trump did a fabulous job in this area. He made it a part of the State Department’s work. Let me commend him for that. Trump was out front about this. Biden says he’s going to do the same thing, but I haven’t seen that yet, personally. IR: Do you believe the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration of the United States and Western institutions, for example, the buying of political influence, etc., has been detrimental to the mission of your commission? Carr: I don’t know that it’s been detrimental to the work of our commission, but I think it’s been detrimental to our country. They are too heavily involved now. We don’t know who’s coming across our Southern border. Their involvement has not been good for our country. IR: Are other nations cooperating with the United States on the issue of religious persecution? Carr: The one that has been most interested is Great Britain. We have not met leaders of other countries that have expressed that concern to me. I know the British people have been concerned and I don’t know that they have an office like USCIRF in Great Britain, but they have a person who has taken the lead. [The UK Prime Minister now has a Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief]. IR: Do you think the Chinese Communist Party’s ultimate goal is to eradicate religion from China? Carr: It’s certainly to suppress it, whether they want to eradicate it, I’m assuming they want to do that too, or they wouldn’t be trying to suppress it. It’s particularly bothersome for me as a Christian to know that I have fellow believers there that feel threatened and that’s true of the Uyghur population and other groups in China. I’d bet those people feel that they’re trying to eradicate it. IR: Do you think we are seeing similar measures to what Hitler carried out against the Jews and other minorities? Carr: It’s certainly similar. We haven’t seen the mass killings yet that happened in Germany, but there is severe harassment. I can't compare it to Auschwitz, but it’s very concerning. IR: How can Americans contribute to or assist the mission of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom? Carr: I think that they can study what we’ve studied and speak about it, whether it’s in civic clubs, or whether it’s to their congressmen and U.S. Senators and local people. It needs to be talked about. You hear very little talk about it. Maybe that’s why the Chinese have identified the four of us, because we’re really some of the few talking about it. We need to be concerned about it. Christians need to be praying about it. Other people of faith need to be praying about it, and we need to support people politically who are supportive of this. I think that’s key. IR: These sorts of sanctions of individuals are often mostly symbolic. Will the sanctions have any effect on you personally? Do you have any holdings in China or any plans to travel to China? Carr: I have been to China a few times. I don’t plan to go back. We are not allowed to go to Hong Kong or Macau, either. I don’t have any investments in China, so that’s not an issue. We are not allowed to do business with people in China, or rather, they are not allowed to do business with us. That’s hard for me because I’ve got some very dear friends who are Chinese and I have not spoken with them since this happened. I would hate to think that my friendship with these people is impacted by that. That’s the only thing that I’m concerned about. IR: You run an investment firm. Why are we allowing companies run by the CCP to have access to our stock market and do you think they should be delisted? Carr: There are some very large Chinese companies now that have huge American investment, such as Alibaba and Tencent. We need to be very careful, but delisting is certainly something that should be considered. IR: What is the way forward? How can the United States best promote religious freedom at home and abroad? Carr: People have said to me, “You guys need to be involved in religious freedom in our country. We’re seeing it slipping away here.” That’s concerning. We need to make sure we protect what we have here. We’ve got to be the model to other people in the world. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled China a “Country of Particular Concern” due to its record of state-sponsored religious persecution. Conditions are deteriorating and the Communist government continues to place restrictions and pressure on religious clergy and practitioners. In their 2021 Annual Report, the Commission made several policy recommendations to the U.S. Government regarding China:

  • Redesignate China as a Country of Particular Concern

  • Enforce current laws, including the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and Tibetan Policy and Support Act

  • Invite other countries to hold China accountable and investigate possible genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjang

  • Express concerns about the Olympic Games in Beijing and do not send U.S. officials

  • Continue to counter CCP influence operations in the U.S., particularly Confucius Institutes

  • Support the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

Some of these actions have already been implemented. It is important that this work continues. Religious persecution by the CCP must be stopped.

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