ROME (SE): In prime viewing time on February 26, a programme on the authority of the pope over his Catholic flock was aired on state television in Beijing.
The 7.30pm programme dealt with the question of the authority of the pope and how it relates to the people of the Church, relations between China and the Vatican, as well as the importance of religion in China and around the world.
The presenter, Yang Rui, chose challenging and difficult topics to present on Chinese state televison, as they are normally only covered under strict supervision by Xinhua, The Global Times and The People’s Daily.
AsiaNews judged the programme as unimpressive, as although the themes it took up are interesting, the China-Vatican negotiations that have taken up gallons of newspaper print around the world were explained in a few words.
The bulk of the space was given to the problematic relations between the Vatican and Taiwan, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and a pope who competes with the Chinese Communist Party for control over the bishops.
One of two studio guests, sometime journalist and current researcher at Renmin University, Francesco Sisci, spoke of papal authority as spiritual only, pointing out that he does not meddle in partisan politics, but AsiaNews said that Pope Francis came out of the programme as a political leader to be feared.
UCAN quoted John Mok Chit-wai, a teaching assistant at the Government and Public Administration Department of Hong Kong Chinese University, as saying that since Sisci does not define the difference between religious authority and political authority, he is only playing with words.
The other guest, Zhong Houtao, from the Taiwan Institute of the Academy of Sciences, was described by AsiaNews as a disaster, as he toed the Chinese government line stressing that all religions are a priori to be suspected of overthrowing the state apparatus.
The programme showed there is no clear understanding in China of what the separation of Church and state means, and the division of authority between secular and spiritual leaders.
“The fact that an expert on Taiwan was invited and not an expert on religion, means that for the government what is important is not religion, but national security,” a person in Beijing told AsiaNews.
All policies on censorship, as seen in the arrests of lawyers and accused spies are ultimately about security, which has been used to justify crackdowns on human rights and religious freedom.
Zhong said that there is full religious freedom in China, but did not go into the existence of the unofficial and unregistered communities and Churches.
He spoke of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province as being a place where faith is lived in complete tranquility, but did not mention the demolition of crosses campaign that affected thousands of Church buildings and led to dozens of arrests.
A Chinese person outside of China said, “It is a programme full of nonsense and propaganda.”
Although the propaganda element is obvious, the target audience was not local Chinese people, but the foreign community, as it was shown on the China Global Television Network in English and without Chinese subtitles.