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Control of religious bodies in China is set to remain tight

HONG KONG (UCAN): China will continue choosing bishops for the official Catholic Church community and it will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a work plan for 2017 posted on the website of the State Administration of Religious Affairs on January 26 announced.

The notice says that it has been decided to enhance government legal powers over religious work in line with the amended Regulations on Religious Affairs and maintain accountability through strict management by Communist Party members.

The plan likewise resolves to implement the spirit of the National Conference of Religious Work, which was attended by the president, Xi Jinping, in April last year.

The administration says it will steadily push forward in electing and ordaining bishops on its own.

The wording has been used by China since the mid-1950s when ordaining bishops without interference from the Vatican. However, the phrase was only mentioned once during the Ninth National Congress for Catholic Representatives held in Beijing from December 27 to 29 last year.

Consequently, some commentators are interpreting this as a positive signal.

“Given the ongoing talks with the Vatican, we can expect that bishops ordained in 2017 will have dual approval from both sides under a tacit agreement. However, I think the slogan will still be in use before an accord is signed,” a researcher in China, who asked that his name be withheld, commented.

It has also been decided to direct the Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China to research three policies on running the Church in a democratic manner.

These three were promulgated in 2003: the Work Regulations for the Catholic Patriotic Association, The System for the Joint Conference of Chairpersons of the Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference, as well as A Management System for Catholic Dioceses in China.

The state department will also offer support to the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference to conduct foreign exchange programmes, but no details of any specific ideas or the naming of any places or countries were given.

To consolidate Church structure, the administration will control the celebration of the Patriotic Association’s 60th anniversary, strengthen the formation of talented Catholics for human resources and enhance the training of key clerics and patriotic laypeople.

Many Catholics, including those in the official Church community, despise the Patriotic Association, which advocates independence from the Vatican and has been accused of corruption. It is another sticking point in the China-Vatican negotiations.

The administration will continue its work of the de-radicalisation of Islam, while investigating cases of Islamic interference with government administrations, the judiciary, education and social life.

The authorities are concerned about the spread of Islamist extremism from northwestern Xinjiang into neighbouring regions like Qinghai and Gansu. Some religious bureaus in these regions use Arabic alphabets in their logos, even though the Han Chinese demand their government should be religion-free.

The administration has also decided to try and prevent halal food becoming widespread after a blogger living in northwestern area said that the spread of halal was affecting non-Muslims.

“It is ridiculous that even the Chinese people have to hold their banquets in a halal restaurant just because a few guests are Muslim. The Chinese restaurants label themselves as providing halal food to attract business from the Muslims,” he said.

Measures and mechanisms will be employed to cope with the financial management of Buddhism and Taoism, which will be expected to venerate in a more environmentally-friendly manner by burning less incense.

The state department will also help the Taoists set up the World Taoist Federation, as well as celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Taoist Association.

The Protestants will be expected to produce a series of videos on the Sinicisation of the Protestant Church in China.

The religious administration this year will promote the Regulations on Religious Affairs as soon as they are promulgated. Concrete management rules will be formulated for Muslim pilgrimages, religious news services and temporary religious venues.

It will also strengthen the management of religious affairs on the Internet, open a WeChat public account for the state department and digitalise religious publications and databases.

The administration will conduct regular exchanges with state religious departments from six neighbouring countries along the Mekong and Canglan Rivers. These include Russia and the Central Asian countries on Islam, as well as a bilateral dialogue on human rights with Europe.

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