"The Chinese government has now placed severe restrictions and policies on the house churches asking neighbors to spy on one another, pressuring school teachers and college professors to betray and sign a statement to denounce their own faith as well to do the same to students," Pastor Jian Zhu said.
Some 260 million Christians have been living in areas of high persecution -- that's one in eight believers worldwide -- an increase of 10 percent compared to last year, according to the watchdog group Open Doors USA's 2020 World Watch List.
"The drivers of persecution are still very significantly entrenched. Islamic extremism is spreading in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia," David Curry, the president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told Fox News. "Then you add this rise of surveillance technology and strategy by China."
Every year, Open Doors USA, a bipartisan grassroots organization, has released a list of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. North Korea topped the list for the 19th year in a row, but China became the focus this year because of its forced labor camps and oppression of Uighur Muslims that's expected to spread and worsen.
While the communist country ranked 23rd on the list, roughly 100 million Christians have been affected by what Curry called "a blueprint for dictators around the world" that China already planned to sell to Iran and other countries.
"China is resurrecting the 'god as the government state,' and we're all threatened by it -- atheists, Jews, Christians -- everyone," Curry said.
Christians in China have been under constant surveillance, not just on the streets, but also in their churches which have been torn down, holy books confiscated. China last year sentenced Pastor Wang Yi to nine years in jail for speaking out against the state.
While the list's top 10 countries were Muslim-majority nations, the focus on China highlighted three trends:
- Governments using artificial intelligence systems to monitor citizens and keep them in line.
- A rise in Islamic extremism including last year's Easter bombing in Sri Lanka and the spike in violent attacks in Burkina Faso.
- The increased pressure from dictators including Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
"Burkina Faso in Africa jumped from off the list to quite high on the list. It is 28 on the list," Curry warned. "The ISIS-affiliated group in Boko Haran in Nigeria is crossing borders: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and now Burkina Faso. If civil authorities don't protect Christian communities, as with ISIS, there could be another caliphate... It's very troubling."
And, similar to last year, Christan women continued to be raped and sexually harassed at alarming rates, an average of 23 per day.
"We cannot let this stand," Curry declared. "People are speaking out. They're crying out and have an obligation to take action."
Curry said the free world "must do more" to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians. But, he did add that "continued dialogue" in the wake of a phase-two trade deal with China could be seen as a pathway for better treatment of the faithful.