Rules on foreigners' religious acts aim to prohibit extremism
Chinese authorities are soliciting public opinion on a new version of regulations on the religious activities of foreigners within China's territory, in which it highlights that foreigners should not advocate religious extremism, support or fund illegal religious activities, use religions to undermine China's unity and ethnic solidarity, or conduct terrorist activities.
A former senior official on religious work and experts said that the latest rules - with many details to protect foreigners' religious freedom in China while prohibiting the infiltration of religious extremists into China - fit into the global context of fighting against extremism and terrorism and reflect China's efforts to perfect its legal system in terms of managing religions.
The notice to solicit public opinion for the rules was initially released by the Ministry of Justice on its website on Wednesday and the deadline to comment is December 17. It contains five chapters on the procedures of how to apply for collective religious activities, religious exchanges with overseas clergy or institutions, and legal responsibilities that foreign clergy members should assume during their stay in China.
Among the articles, Article 21 has drawn public attention as it lists activities that foreigners should not conduct within China, including interfering with or dominating the affairs of Chinese religious groups, institutions or religious sites; interfering with the appointment or management of Chinese clergy members; advocating extremist religious thoughts; supporting or funding illegal or extremist activities; using religion to destroy China's national unity or ethnic solidarity, or using religion to conduct terrorist activities.
Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told the Global Times on Monday that the detailed regulations could help prohibit some forces from infiltrating into China under the guise of religion for terrorist or separatist activities.
"The latest version of the rules is more detailed and comprehensive. It also shows China's swift response to the growing global challenge - the threat of religious extremism to political stability, and the social panic and disorder caused by religious extremism," a Beijing-based expert on religious research who asked for anonymity told the Global Times.
Some European countries, especially France, have suffered from terrorist attacks committed by religious extremists in recent months. For example, there was the beheading of Samuel Paty, a middle school teacher who had showed his students caricatures of prophet Muhammad.
China has always remained on high alert for infiltration of foreign forces using religion and insisted on independent principles in managing its religious affairs, analysts said.
It is unfair for the West to accuse China of regulating foreigners' religious activities in China, as other countries have similar laws and regulations. It is legitimate and responsible for China to administer religious activities within its territory, Zhu said.
"These rules are not in conflict with the protection of religious freedom. Only by stopping those with other purposes from using religion, can people better enjoy religious freedom in China. Giving up administration would only end the harmonious religious situation in China and give way to religious extremist forces," Zhu said.
The State Council, China's cabinet, released provisions on the administration of religious activities of foreigners within China's territory on January 31, 1994. The National Religious Affairs Administration released an implementation of the provisions in September 2000. In November 2010, it amended the implementation with 22 articles.
Chen Jinguo, a research fellow at the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that together with the provisions, the State Council released regulations on religious sites in 1994, which showed that China's religion-related work was on the track of rule by law.
The latest rules for public review are more practical and further improve on the legal system for managing religions in China, Chen said.
The expert noted that banning actions by foreigners also reflects the principle of guiding religions to develop with Chinese society. For example, the five-year plan for Islam in China stresses the importance of preventing the use of religions to interfere with social life, resisting religious extremism, and resisting overseas forces' infiltration.