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Open Doors: Definition of 'Religious Freedom' in China Differs from the West

The Chinese top official's recent call on religious leaders to battle against foreign 'infiltration' through religions has implied that 'religious freedom' in China is not more than something off
( [email protected] ) Feb 02, 2006 01:57 PM EST

The Chinese top official’s recent call on religious leaders to battle against foreign "infiltration" through religions has implied that "religious freedom" in China is not more than something offered "in a box."

On Sunday Jan. 22, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)- the top advisory body of the country- spoke to the heads of China’s state-run religious affairs bureaus on a seminar, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

Jia warned that Western religions are entering China "not in ways that accord with the government’s wishes," therefore religious affairs work must be established "within the overall work of the [Communist] party" in a bid to prevent "infiltration" and contribute to "the building of a harmonious socialist society," sources say.

Open Doors U.S.A. spokesman for China mission, minister-at-large Johnny Li, responded, "What Jia Qinglin has just said once again reminds us that what the definition of religion freedom [in China] means is different from most of the Western mind."

Li explained that from the viewpoint of the Chinese government, "religious freedom" is only confined within the government sanctioned (Protestant) Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).

"Basically Chinese have freedom to believe in Christianity and worshipping within the state church, but bringing our faith out of the box [TSPM] is not what they have planned when TSPM was established," he added.

Many Western countries, especially the U.S., have showed deep concern over the violation of religious freedom in China, the world’s most populous country. In the international religious freedom report 2005 published by the U.S. Department of State, China was re-designated as one of the eight "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs).

"The Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups," states the report on China, which included Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau. "Members of some unregistered religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention."

According to sources from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Ambassador John Hanford also noted that China has demonstrated a willingness to engage with the U.S. to improve religious freedom.

Despite China’s effort to show that it does concern about religious freedom issue, Li said, "China is playing game with the West."

The West has always been trying to challenge and expand the boundaries that the Chinese government has set for "religious freedom" through engaging into dialogues, but actually both the U.S. and China should have already realized that their standpoints are very different from each other, Li commented.

Li cited an example to explain the fact. During the U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to Beijing in November 2005, he has raised the religious freedom issue on meetings with the country’s top leaders. Under the pressure of international community, the Chinese government did not release any imprisoned Chinese house church leaders as expected.

"The Chinese government would like to tell the world ‘this is not a game controlled by the West’ and ‘it is not that it will release imprisoned religious leaders whenever Bush visits’," Li concluded. "China does not want to show that it is trying to win the favor and friendship with the U.S. [on religious freedom issue] in every Bush’s visits."