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Securitization of Everything

When my friend turned his China-made Tesla into the parking area at a sports center, he was stopped at the entrance. When he asked what the problem was, he was told, “Security risk—Teslas are not allowed in.” Traveling to China during the last year since the end of zero-COVID, I have noticed an increasing emphasis on security almost everywhere I look.

At the national level, China’s leaders have articulated a doctrine of comprehensive national security that has been elevated above other priorities such as economic development. Local government officials are now evaluated on their implementation of security concerns. When school children started their classes in the autumn, they had an orientation on state security and their roles and responsibilities. China is increasingly moving to the securitization of everything.1

The approach of comprehensive national security covers sixteen different areas:2

Of these, political security, societal security, and cultural security are areas that intersect with religious beliefs, practices, and the daily experiences of Christians in China.

Alongside this security consciousness is IT-enabled monitoring. As IT capabilities such as big data, facial recognition, geolocation, AI, and others developed, China applied these to enhance monitoring and control and improve security.3 Three years of COVID restrictions greatly expanded these capabilities as China learned to acquire, link, and manage information at a huge scale. China has become a world leader in IT and security applications. In addition, China has also been exporting these IT solutions and approaches to security to countries around the world.4

Churches and individual Chinese Christians have felt the impact of this shift to greater emphasis and concern about security. Unregistered churches and groups are seen as threats affecting societal and cultural security. Any foreign connections are seen through a security lens as a potential threat to China’s stability and healthy development. In the religious sphere this concern about foreign involvement is often articulated as part of the Sinicization program for religion.5

Many churches and individuals have set up domestic NGOs to live out their faith in society and love their neighbors in a way that complies with China’s laws and regulations. Recently, China’s State Council posted some potential revisions to the 2016 Charity Law governing these domestic NGOs.6 When initially published, the Charity Law had the Ministry of Civil Affairs as the government department responsible for domestic NGOs (foreign NGOs come under the Ministry of Public Security). In the proposed revisions, one amendment subjects all domestic NGOs to the oversight of public (police) and state security departments. Another amendment requires prior approval by civil affairs officials for any interaction between domestic NGOs and foreign organizations or individuals. These amendments will likely be part of the revised law within a matter of months, reflecting the growing concern about security, viewing all social activities as potential security risks.

One pastor in Beijing recently commented that the house churches are under the most pressure they have faced in the last 40 years. Churches are being forced to split into smaller groups. It is not uncommon for even smaller churches to have visits from local religious and security departments including losing access to places of meeting. Leaders of local fellowships are called in for tea; in some cases, leaders are detained for a period of time. Church members are unsettled when meetings are interrupted by security officials coming into a meeting to see who is attending. Church websites and chat groups have been shut down. Online donations or bank transfers can result in questioning by bank and financial authorities.

Over the past decade China has promulgated a set of regulations for both religious and public affairs that are applied to control and restrict religious groups. In addition to restrictions specifically for religious affairs (training, leadership, religious sites, publishing, and so on) there are also other general restrictions on fundraising, taxes, and public safety, that are also employed. With the addition of security concerns on top of these, the government has a broad and powerful set of tools to manage and regulate the church. This heightened security environment applies to both the registered (TSPM) and unregistered (house) churches.

Chinese leaders previously elevated economic growth above other considerations. China’s leaders now talk about security as a precondition for development and other priorities. An emphasis on ideology and security has replaced pragmatism in the management of religious believers. We should pray for our Chinese brothers and sisters to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16) in this securitized environment and to be able be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) bringing the good news to their friends and neighbors.


  1. See Katja Drinhausen and Helena Legarda, “’Comprehensive National Security’ Unleashed: How Xi’s Approach Shapes China’s Policies at Home and Abroad,” MERICS, September 15, 2022, accessed December 5, 2023,
  2. Helena Legarda, “China’s New International Paradigm: Security First,” MERICS, June 15, 2021, accessed December 5, 2023,
  3. Joann Pittman, “’Digital Leninism,’” ChinaSource Blog, November 27, 2017, accessed December 5, 2023,
  4. See note 3; Chen Bing-Ming, “Digital Leninism: The Complex, Dangerous Relationship between Tech Giants and the Chinese Communist Party,” CIPE, January 15, 2021, accessed December 5, 2023,;; and Chen Zifei, “China Can Still Use Big Data to Control Citizens Despite Ditching COVID-19 App,” Radio Free Asia, December 18, 2022, accessed December 5, 2023, for references about post-COVID data capabilities.
  5. For more information on Sinicization see Brad Vaughn, “7 Reasons Why Sinicization Is Not Rhetoric This Time,” ChinaSource Blog, May 1, 2019, accessed December 5, 2023,; “The Sinicization of Religion,” ChinaSource Blog: Chinese Church Voices, December 5, 2017, accessed December 5, 2023,; and Joann Pittman, “3 Questions: Sinicization or Chinafication?,” ChinaSource Blog, February 3, 2020, accessed December 5, 2023,
  6. See notice of the comment period for proposed changes: Taige Hu, “NPCSC Seeks Public Comment on 6 Bills: State Secrets, State Council Operation, Food Security, Charity Regulation, Infectious Disease Control & Cultural Relics Protection,” NPC Observer, October 24, 2023, accessed December 5, 2023, and an English translation of the second set of revisions at “Charity Law Draft Amendments,” China Law Translate, October 31, 2023, accessed December 5, 2023,
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Image credit: Chris Yang via UnSplash.

Peter Bryant

Over the last 30 years Peter Bryant (pseudonym) has had the chance to visit, to live for extended periods of time, and to travel to almost all of China’s provinces. As a Christian business person he has met Chinese from all walks of life. He has a particular interest in …View Full Bio

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