The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice today concluded a six-country tour across Asia in Beijing, China. After the high-profile attendance of the Palm Sunday service yesterday at the Gangwashi Protestant Church, west of the Tiananmen Square, Beijing, Rice further highlighted her call for religious freedom in China in her last meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing before departure.
China is one of the biggest countries in the world and has been labelled by the US as one of the "countries of particular concern" for limiting religious freedom. Rice directly raised the sensitive issues of human rights and democracy.
"We...talked a good deal about the need for China to think about a more open political system that will match its economic opening and allow for the full creativity of the Chinese people," Rice told a news conference.
From 1st March, new regulations on religions were implemented in China. The new rules say that "anyone who compels citizens to believe in or not believe in any religions...shall be ordered to make corrections by the religious affairs department" and could face criminal charges.
According to human rights groups and many Christians, while the law aims to protect "normal" religious activities in the wake of the rise of the Falun Gong movement, which was defined as a cult by Chinese authorities, it also means "religious activities expressly authorised by the state through a system of compulsory licensing and mandatory inspections" will indirectly affect religious gatherings and growth.
As the Beijing government is using its regulatory powers in every possible way to hold back the religious renaissance currently sweeping across the country, Chinese people's religious rights are being threatened.
Reuters reported that Rice, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, described herself as deeply religious. Rice listened to a translation of the Palm Sunday service yesterday through headphones and sang hymns at the church that had supported the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
The congregation of some 500 applauded Rice when she left at the end of the service. Rice refused to make any address on religious freedom on Sunday, however, today she called the church service she attended "an extraordinary experience".
"I do hope that there is an understanding that religious communities are not a threat to transitional societies. In fact they are very often...a source for good, for stability and for compassion in societies that are undergoing rapid change," she said, quoted by Reuters.
Reuters said that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had also visited the same church as Rice in 1998 and made an even more forward speech supporting religious freedom.