TAIPEI - The U.S. ambassador for religious freedom again urged China on Monday to give its people religious freedom, a move he said could help gain trust from self-ruled Taiwan, an island China considers its own.
Sam Brownback said in a speech Friday in Hong Kong that China was waging “war with faith” and that it needed to respect the “sacred right” of people to worship, especially Muslims locked up in internment camps in Xinjiang.
On Monday, he addressed the issue of Taiwan, which China considers a wayward province and has pledged to bring back into the fold, by force if necessary.
“If they want to build some confidence in Taiwan, they should give religious freedom to their own people,” he said. “If they would give religious freedom to their own people, that would be noticeable.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reassure people in Taiwan in January that religious and legal freedom on the island would be respected under a peaceful “reunification.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has in return rejected Xi’s call and instead urged China to embrace democracy.
Brownback’s visit to Taipei was viewed by some in Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging that China takes the position that there is “One China” and Taiwan is part of it.
But the United States is also Taiwan’s biggest ally and arms supplier and is duty-bound by legislation to help the island defend itself.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China opposes any kind of official contact between the United States and Taiwan.
China os strongly opposed to the envoy’s “wrong comments” about religious freedom and has lodged “stern representations” with the United States, Lu said, adding that China protects religious freedom.
China opposes the United States using the issue of religion to interfere in its internal affairs and urges it to stop, he said.
China runs vocational training centers in Xinjiang to carry out de-radicalization and prevent terror, Lu said.
“They are absolutely not, as the United States exaggerates, so-called re-education camps,” Lu said.