China announced Friday the establishment of its first national association to disseminate information on freedom of religion in China, the state-run newspaper reported.
According to Xinhua, the non-profit organization, China Religious Culture Communication Association (CRCCA) will serve as the platform for the country's religions in an effort to share information with various organizations or bodies overseas about religious freedom in China.
"We will devote ourselves to promoting religious cultural exchanges and cooperation between the Chinese mainland and all social circles, especially religious ones, from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other parts of the world," Xinhua reported the CRCCA's constitution as saying.
Another function of the association is to let the world know how China is treating religious worshippers, and to clarify China's policies regarding religious freedom.
Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs of China, was elected as the president, with three others -- Bishop Fu Tieshan, chairman of the Catholic Patriotic Association, Pagbalha Geleg Namgyae, a well-known Tibetan living Buddha and bishop Ding Guangxun from the China Christian Council.
"In my view, the association will surely facilitate better use of both governmental and religious resources in China and further exploration of the helpful values and traditions in Chinese religions," Fu said to Xinhua, adding that he wants "mutual understanding" to be "enhanced, misunderstanding removed and friends…made."
He praised the constitution for its timeliness, saying that the new association is necessary for the country's religious undertaking.
However, even as the association begins to take shape, underground religious groups who are not recognized by the government for their refusal to register, are consistently being persecuted for their beliefs.
Christian and or religious freedom watchdog groups have reported throughout the year of persecution, intimidation, or imprisonment of Christians and Catholics in China for trying to spread the gospel or protect their rights.
Some include, the U.S. State department, who released their International Religious Freedom report last month, renaming China a "country of particular concern," the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, China Aid Association, and the international Christian ministry to the persecuted church -- Open Doors -- who released a weekly prayer alert for China a few days ago.
Religious groups in China need to register with one of the government-sanctioned churches or under the government-run Three Self Patriotic Movement. However, millions of underground Christians choose to worship in unofficial churches because of government restrictions, and as a result face being detained, harassed, or imprisoned for their faith.