China lays out blueprint to manage religion

Religion with Chinese characteristics to increase party control over faith—a move that could spark fresh tensions with the Vatican

By staff reporters for in Hong Kong and China

China's Communist Party has officially committed to make foreign Western religions more Chinese, or "Sinicized," during the first top-level meeting on religious matters in 15 years that highlighted escalating concerns at the surging popularity of religion in the country.

The meeting keenly focused on Christianity, the foundation religion of the West, which some observers estimate has as many as 100 million followers in the country.

Originally scheduled in December, the meeting was to finalize a yet unreleased blueprint to more tightly manage the country's believers.

The outcome appears aimed squarely at Christianity and raised the spectre of foreigners inflitrating China via religious groups.

All but one of China's elite Politburo Standing Committee, including President Xi Jinping and his Prime Minister Li Keqiang, attended the two-day summit held behind closed doors in Beijing where rolling meetings between committee members and top religious officials were held.

Comments by Xi at the meeting drove home the key point that atheist China would separate religion and politics and the influence of "external forces" and "extremist ideas" — references to the Vatican which is viewed by Beijing as a rival center of power influencing China's more than 12 million Catholics — as well as Muslim extremists.

Xi's administration retains strict security measures in far flung Xinjiang that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, following a wave of attacks in Western China in recent years.

Observers said the party's plans to Sinicize religion left many questions as to what measures would be instituted, typical of the bare bone information that initially emerges from China's high level meetings in efforts to highlight a discrete set of key points to be driven home to citizens by propaganda chiefs.

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