South Korea imposes new restriction on Christian missionaries, confiscates certificates

South Korea is marking the 50th anniversary of the early development of its “treaty cities” with China by creating a blacklist of more than 200 seminaries operating out of religious settlements in the country.

The certificates have been handed to local authorities to issue warning letters to the seminary leaders. Those in violation of the new regulations, the president of the South Korean seminary association, Son Hyung, said, could be ordered to take leave of the country or face criminal investigations.

In a statement read out to the public, the South Korean government reiterated its plan to go even further by banning South Korean believers from sending children to China, as well as barring parents with children studying in Beijing and Shanghai from traveling to the two cities.

The policy took shape as many South Korean adherents of Christianity and other religions viewed President Moon Jae-in’s election last year as a sign that the new government may be more willing to confront Chinese authorities over human rights violations. Mr. Moon has often expressed his love for his native country.

For South Korean Christians, the issue of Chinese police abuses was raised before Mr. Moon’s election, when North Korea declared that it has a truth commission to gather evidence for prosecutions of South Korean Christians it says are hurting its Communist regime.

Treaty cities have long been a subject of political controversy. While officials of the National Olympics Committee have long suggested that China should be allowed to host the Summer Olympics in 2020, Beijing has consistently rejected the suggestion.

But South Korean leaders have only recently begun to directly address the issue of human rights abuses against South Korean missionaries, especially after a private investigator said he found photographs on former Chinese communist officials’ phones of South Korean Christians wearing tiger skins, a religious symbol.

Mr. Moon has been criticized for going public with human rights abuses against South Korean Christians in China, given that many of them are Christians, and that Mr. Moon himself is a pastor.

While some Chinese Chinese officials have responded to the allegations of missionaries by threatening arrests, illegal detentions and physical violence against Christians trying to seek safe haven, most South Korean followers of Christianity have applauded Mr. Moon’s interest in his country’s Christian community.

Mr. Moon invited five young South Korean Christians to the first in a series of “treaty talks” with his Chinese counterpart. The president’s camp says the talks, which Mr. Moon hopes will lead to more South Korean religious liberalization, must not hurt the relationship between the two countries.

Chinese officials have defended the safety of South Korean pastors, some of whom have been hurt while trying to leave China.

One South Korean pastor who was attacked in China last year while trying to leave the country was baptized by his former pastor in his hospital bed two weeks ago, Christian advocacy groups said on Dec. 27. The pastor, Park Jae-gi, has since been released from a hospital in Beijing after suffering burns in the assault.

But the attacks on South Korean pastors have made some South Korean believers suspicious of the actual intentions of Mr. Moon’s administration.

Yang Sang-hee, a South Korean pastor who helped to organize a petition drive calling for the creation of the app, said, “There is never any guarantee for those of us who oppose the installation of a missile system [on the Korean Peninsula].”

The new regulations are expected to continue to embolden some South Korean Christians to seek the right to worship in China or to help them, should they be detained there.

Mr. Yun, a South Korean pastor who used to work as a translator for a Christian missionary group in China, said the new regulations seemed to be aimed at preserving South Korean Christianity as a de facto state religion within China.

“The goal of the authorities is to turn South Korean Christians into a standard Christian church in China that can be said to speak for the entire national population there,” he said.

An elderly South Korean Christian who lived in China for 20 years, Mr. Yun said South Korean evangelical missionaries in China were being asked by the authorities to pretend to abandon their religious faith.

“If we don’t stop these missionaries, many South Korean Christians will face China the way that Christians have been treated in other countries,” he said.

In anticipation of the new regulations, Beijing this week began barring foreign missionaries and missionaries from entering the country.

Read the full story at the Financial Times.


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