China Calls For Religion To Be ‘Localized’ To Reduce Foreign ‘Infiltration,’ Says Party ‘Severely Damaged’ By Members’ Religious Beliefs

By Duncan Hewitt for the International Business Times

SHANGHAI — China’s leaders have stepped up a campaign to “localize” the country’s officially sanctioned religions and help prevent “infiltration” by foreign forces, as a senior official warned that many Communist Party members had turned to religion and this had “severely damaged the Party’s ideology.”

The remarks were made at a rare national religious working conference, presided over by China’s President and Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping at the weekend. It was the first such conference since 2001, and some observers said it was further evidence of Xi’s concerns at foreign influences and a lack of ideological purity among party members. 

Religion under government control is officially tolerated in China, and has become a growing part of life over the past two decades, after being banned during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. There are now some 100 million believers, according to official estimates, a figure some religious believers say far underestimates the situation.

However, Xi has sought to re-impose more orthodox Marxist values, at least on the country’s 88 million Communist Party members, since he came to power some three years ago. And he told the meeting that China should “resolutely resist overseas infiltration through religious means and guard against ideological infringement by extremists,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Xi said that “localization” is a “key mission in helping religions adapt to [China’s] socialist society,” adding “We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with socialist core values.” 

Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Committee of the advisory body to China’s legislature, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), told the official Global Times newspaper: "Localization of foreign religions does not mean a denial of their basic doctrines and canons, but to follow the lead of the Party, as well as adding Chinese characteristics to the religions.”

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