Chinese President Xi Jinping has "particular animosity" against Christians in the Communist country, but "persecution will only help accelerate the growth" of the faithful, the head of a persecution watchdog has revealed.
During a discussion on religious oppression sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Bob Fu, the founder and president of the U.S.-based Christian human rights group China Aid, said Xi views Christianity's rise in China as a threat to his rule, as there are now more than 38 million Protestants in China.
Just in the last year, the number of persecuted Christians in China has "dramatically increased," he said.
"The number of people we documented who are persecuted among just Christians alone last year reached 223,000 compared to these 48,000 in 2016," he said, according to Breitbart News.
In efforts to better control religion, Beijing has "forced" churches to install "face recognition systems," Fu revealed.
"Every church [in China] is forced to install face recognition systems and every church building ... is forced to put a sign [up] banning children, students, civil servants, military personnel, and communist party members from entering," he said. "They use the face recognition systems to record the image and try to purge the communist party member who dared enter the church."
Still, persecution will only "accelerate the growth," he added, noting that even the number of Christians "who worship at the government churches had dramatically increased."
"You can see that he [Xi] has particular animosity against Christianity in particular," Fu said, acknowledging that the communist regime has identified "underground churches" as a "severe national security threat," along with political dissidents and human rights lawyers.
Kristina Arriaga, the vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said that China's persecution of Christians has intensified in recent years.
"A lot of things have happened in the last few months that are very troubling for the future of Christianity in China," she said. "The situation for Christians there is dire. ... One thing we know for sure is that the persecution [against] Christians has doubled in intensity."
As reported, Xi previously asserted that "that all religions must be 'Chinese-oriented,' as part of his effort to 'Sinicize religion,' or make it more Chinese, by instilling socialist core values."
Recently, Communist authorities demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in addition to taking down crosses and religious iconography from various other worshipping centers.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government banned the sale of Bibles at online bookstores across the country, also as part of renewed regulations.
Also this year, a Chinese Christian woman was arrested by public security bureau officers and criminally detained after she attempted to share the gospel with President Xi.
Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks the country 43rd on its World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most difficulties.