New bill in China would prohibit foreign missionaries from evangelizing
BEIJING, China, November 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Foreigners will be unable to speak freely about God in China, should a new communist bill be put into law.
According to AsiaNews.it, visitors to China would be subject to several significant restrictions regarding their religious activities. A draft of the new law entitled “Foreign Religious Activities in the People’s Republic of China” was recently released by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). It forbids missionary work and even religious services conducted by foreigners for Chinese nationals.
“To enhance the sense of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ of Chinese religions, religious activities by foreigners can only involve foreigners, even if they can, sometimes and temporarily, use local ‘temples or churches’, and ask Chinese personnel to perform religious services or sacraments (Articles 17 and 20),” AsiaNews reported.
“Foreigners are also not allowed to set up religious groups, engage in activities, or open schools, proselytise among Chinese citizens, recruit followers, or accept donations from Chinese citizens (Article 21).”
The online news magazine also reported that SARA is against any kind of foreign leadership in religions present in China, which most prominently would include the Argentina-born Roman pontiff.
“Under Article 21 (1) of the draft, a foreigner (like the Pope) may not ‘interfere in and dominate the affairs of Chinese religious groups,’” AsiaNews stated.
The proposed legislation contains 40 articles detailing the extent to which foreigners and Chinese may meet, discuss religion, and share religious materials. AsiaNews suggests that the draft treats religious foreigners in China as if they were spies.
“Chapter 4 (Articles 30-36) is impressive because it includes ‘punishments’ under the law and cites laws and regulations governing religious activities and public security and anti-espionage legislation,” the news magazine wrote.
“The proposal seems informed by the view that religious activities by foreigners are part of an ‘espionage’ operation.”
Whereas SARA makes a show of respecting the religious beliefs of foreigners, it regulates their own religious services, even when they remain separate from Chinese nationals.
“Although Article 4 states: ‘China respects the freedom of religious belief of foreigners in the territory and protects the religious activities of foreigners in the territory according to the law’, every individual and group, and every activity must be subject to very strict conditions and must be verified by the Religious Affairs Office at the city, county, province, and national levels,” AsiaNews reported.
Foreign religious communities or chaplaincies for foreigners will be forced to register and wait 20 days for authorization from SARA to conduct religious activities. Oddly, they will have to register in Chinese.
Meanwhile, there will also be a cap on the amount of religious materials foreigners may bring with them into China, for example, only 10 copies of a book, video or brochure. These, too, must receive Chinese authorization. AsiaNews wrote that Article 25 stipulates that to bring the material into the country, “applicants must supply documentation explaining its content, which must not ‘endanger China’s national security’ and must not be contrary to the ‘principle of Chinese religious independence and self-management.’”
The proposed new law envisions “cultural and religious exchanges” between China and the outside world, the foreigners being invited to “conferences, courses or sermons.” However, these would have to guard their tongues and refrain from activities the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deems “hostile to China,” and also wait for permission from SARA to attend.
“Given such restrictions and red tape, foreign religious groups will struggle to set foot in China,” AsiaNews concluded.
“Interacting with underground Christians will become impossible and illegal. Interacting with members of official Christian Churches without SARA’s monitoring will become harder.”
David Mulroney, Canada’s Ambassador to China between 2009 and mid-2012, told LifeSiteNews that China’s xenophobic attitude towards religion is particularly noxious to Catholicism.
“China seeks to undermine the universality of religious belief and religious communities, something that strikes at the very heart of Catholicism,” Mulroney said via social media.
“The Communist Party is wary of religious beliefs that transcend national borders, particularly its own,” he continued. “That means … Catholicism, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism are deeply suspect.”
Mulroney also pointed out that China’s attitude towards global religious movements is “ironic” given its participation in international communism.
“The Party’s powerful United Front Work Department uses clandestine means to spread its Marxist gospel around the world,” the former ambassador stated.
One solution to China’s objection of the “foreign” leadership of the Pope might be the election of a Chinese cardinal to the papacy. Given the impact of a Polish pope in the 20th century struggle for freedom in Central and Eastern Europe, the election of a Chinese pope might be ideal. But Edward Pentin, author of The Next Pope, thinks this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
“A Chinese pope is possible but it would require the Pope appointing a bishop from China of considerable stature,” Pentin told LifeSiteNews via social media.
“At the moment there are just two Chinese cardinals, John Hong Ton and [Joseph] Zen Ze-kiun, both emeriti of Hong Kong, but as they’re over 80, both are unlikely to be elected."
Thus, for there to be a Chinese pope, Pope Francis would have to elevate a younger Chinese bishop to the College of Cardinals.
“[I]f he did, he’d undoubtedly choose someone on board with the Provisional Agreement and friendly to the CCP,” Pentin stated. “I don’t see such a cardinal being elected pope in a conclave, at least not at the moment.”
The draft legislation was presented shortly after the renewal of the two-year-old accord between the atheist and communist Chinese government and the Holy See in October. The terms of the accord, which allegedly allows the CCP to choose episcopal candidates, are largely unknown; the document has never been made public. However, the circumstances of religious minorities in China, including Catholics, have only worsened since the accord was signed.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and an outspoken supporter of democracy in Hong Kong, has vigorously opposed the agreement.