Xi Jinping

President of China Xi Jinping told China’s religious to avoid the influence of foreign religious leaders in an attempt to secure the government’s control.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has asked Chinese domestic religious groups to pledge loyalty to the state and steer clear of foreign influence. In a keynote speech delivered at a high level Communist Party policy meeting in Beijing, the Chinese president said the country’s religious affairs should be managed in accordance with the law and “adhere to the principle of independence to run groups on our own accord.” The comments which have received wide coverage were made at the meeting which is one of the Communist Party efforts to bring together non-Communist Party groups. President Xi Jinping comments on the role of the party’s religious work elaborated the Communist’s party religious policy in the coming days.

President Xi Jinping said efforts should be made to “incorporate the religions into socialist society” with focus being on winning over more of the public to the party. These religious comments come at a time when more people are seeking refuge by turning to various religions despite much of the government’s efforts to limit their public influence. Indeed, the Communist Party’s policy has for decades demonstrated a fear that hostile foreign influence could be spread by international religions. The political party has been concerned that religions are winning over the populace while overshadowing the party influence in the nation. Such fear has been reflected in the party’s policies which include banning foreign missionaries and the criminalizing all unregistered religious groups. The government has also claimed that foreign forces were using Islam and Tibetan Buddhism in Xinjiang and Tibet to incite anti-Chinese rule.

A case in point is that of the Catholic Church whose formal relations with Beijing were severed in 1951. The Chinese government does not acknowledge any appointments made by the Vatican and Catholics only worship in state controlled churches outside the authority of the Pope. In response to Xi Jinping’s speech, Pope Francis told Chinese Catholics to remain “united to the rock” that is the Roman Catholic Church.

President Xi Jinping’s remarks to incorporate religion to the party however do not seem to show a softening of the government’s stance on religion. The Communist Party is officially atheist and harassment of religious groups is not uncommon. For example since early in 2014, the province of Zhejiang has been forcibly removing crosses from Christian churches. This has been an effort to reduce the religion’s visibility and shows the government is not about to compromise its stance.

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