Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Recently, an Italian newspaper (with an online English version), has accused AsiaNews of providing space for "an alliance between Honk Kong circles, sectors within the US and Europe’s right-wing" to push Pope Francis to give priority to religious freedom over Church unity in China. The same article cites AsiaNews as among the Catholic groups and people "who are anti-Francis but love Putin."
Yesterday, we published AsiaNews’s response to these allegations. Today we received an response from John Mok, teaching assistant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has contributed two articles to AsiaNews on the issue of religious freedom in China and China-Vatican talks: ‘By courting Beijing, Pope Francis is losing China (as well as Hong Kong)’and ‘Xi Jinping and religions: the Party must lead “effectively” and “forcefully”’
As one of the contributors from Hong Kong who wrote articles for AsiaNews criticizing His Holiness Pope Francis’ diplomatic approach towards China, I was deeply perturbed by recent comments made by some Vatican experts. The experts accused people from Hong Kong who criticized the current Sino-Vatican negotiations for having “political motivations that are masked by theological and ecclesial questions”, in order to defend “the West’s primacy”. And these people, dubbed as “Hong Kong circles” by the experts, are accused to have formed an alliance with “sectors within the US and Europe’s right-wing”. And all in all, these people are said to be “anti-Francis but love Putin”.
I am indeed a frequent critic of His Holiness over the Sino-Vatican negotiations. I submit articles not only to AsiaNews, but also to Chinese newspapers and online media based in Hong Kong, such as Ming Pao and Initium Media. (Though those experts in Vatican would not have a chance to read them, as I believe they are not bothered to read any Chinese materials.) But I do not understand many of the accusations directed against us.
All my criticisms are based on one principle: the protection of and the struggle for religious freedom. Religious freedom, I believe, is a basic human right. Though I am not an expert in the Church’s teachings, I do believe that most in the Church would share my judgment, including, of course, His Holiness. I also believe that religious freedom is a universal value, but not, as many autocrats in Asia would claim, a Western concept that does not apply to Asian societies. If supporting Pope Francis’ call for the protection of Christians against severe persecution in the Middle East would render one become his ally, then I do not understand why calling for the protection of Christians in China against terrible and violent oppressions by the Communist Party would make one become His Holiness’ enemy. I sincerely do not understand the logic behind. If the Church would like to spread her message in China freely and without the need to give up its full identity, and to unite the Catholics in China, religious freedom is the only guarantee. And if religious freedom is to be protected in China, then genuine political reform is the only way out. Courting the Communist Party without any call for greater religious freedom, and without recognizing the Party’s growing grip on civil society under President Xi Jinping, would put many Chinese believers in helplessness and agony, and push the Church in China into further splits.
I am a teaching assistant working for a political science department in a local university. I help lead tutorials and discuss with my students about basic concepts in the field. Given my academic training, I cannot understand why criticizing His Holiness’ diplomatic tactics over China would necessarily make me an alliance with the right-wing, and even worse, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian autocrat. According to my knowledge, both state capitalism and crony capitalism are classified as rightist ideologies, and the current Chinese government is practicing them. Under the Party’s policies, oligarchical corporations grow, workers and farmers are exploited, and property prices skyrocket because of unrestrained speculations. If one believes that the current Chinese government is a “left” one because it claims to be so, then he is not seeing the real picture. And I do believe that His Holiness is equally concerned with Chinese workers who are suffering from exploitations by large corporations backed up by the Party. I do support and laud His Holiness’ actions and teachings against reckless capitalist systems, political corruption, social inequalities, and human trafficking. But this does not make me a fan of Xi Jinping.
Putin is an autocrat who recklessly abuses human rights and suppresses dissidents. He shall be condemned. But so shall Xi! If one criticizes Putin for his iron-fist rule, then one shall also condemn Xi for his heavy-handed rule! This, I believe, is called consistency and intellectual honesty. All forms of autocratic rules shall be criticized and struggled against. This should be the common goal for all those who would like to make our world a better place. Yu Pedro Heping, a young priest from Ningxia Province who was found dead mysteriously, also asked the Holy See not to rush for results. Should we then, according to the Vatican experts, count him an ally of “sectors within the US and Europe’s right-wing”?
I am an advocate of the Vatican II. I advocate the Church’s dialogue with all cultures, as well as localization. (I love singing hymns with my mother-tongue.) But this does not naturally turn me into a supporter of His Holiness’ diplomacy. And according to Gaudium et Spes, “Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics, and should seek to practice this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages. With integrity and wisdom, they must take action against any form of injustice and tyranny, against arbitrary domination by an individual or a political party and any intolerance. They should dedicate themselves to the service of all with sincerity and fairness, indeed, with the charity and fortitude demanded by political life.” All Christians in China, indeed the people in China, are under the “arbitrary domination by… a political party”. Shouldn’t we heed the call from our great pastors to stand up and take action?
Reporters and journalists are responsible for, as His Holiness teaches us, spreading truth, instead of making baseless accusations and sowing the seeds for conflicts. If the Vatican experts would like to learn more about our judgments and opinions, I sincerely invite them to come to Hong Kong and engage in open discussions with us, including priests, believers, activists, and scholars. This, I believe, would be a good way to follow His Holiness’ example in trying to solve conflicts through dialogue.