Rome (AsiaNews) - Ye Xiaowen, the man who for 15 years led the ministry for religious affairs, has been promoted to party secretary of the Central Institute for socialism with the rank of minister. Ye was one of the greatest obstacles to China's dialogue with the Vatican and his promotion brings no hope for a relaxation of relations between Beijing and the Holy See. The outlook looks no better, considering that he is to be replaced by Wang Zuoan who has a similar ideological approach.
Ye, 59, was born in Guizhou. Since the early 90s he has worked in the United Front and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs. In 1995 he became director of the Office for Religious Affairs (with the rank of deputy minister), which at the time went by the name of "the State Administration for Religious Affairs."
Under his direction the first Regulations of religious activity were launched, which defined as "legal" only those whose activities, personnel and places of worship were registered, branding all meetings and activities of underground communities "illegal." Thanks to these rules one of the most violent and widespread attempts to wipe out the underground Catholic Church began, which led to the arrests of bishops and priests, to the use of physical violence against the faithful and the destruction of places of worship.
In '95, under the Ye’s direction the election of the 11th Panchen Lama also took place, as opposed to the one recognized by the Dalai Lama, increasing control over Tibetan Buddhism, to the point of demanding that all Buddhist reincarnation (even that of the Dalai Lama ) must have Party approval to be "true".
From '99 onwards, Ye has also led a campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, resulting in the arrest of thousands of members accused of following an "evil cult", with a strange aftermath - denounced by that same movement – of "suicide" among prisoners members of the group.
A perfect representative of the idea that religions should be subservient to the power and supremacy of the Party, Ye has always hampered dialogue with the Vatican, sometimes using weak words to publicise Beijing’s "openness".
His interviews with American media in February 2008 remain infamous, where Ye went to great lengths to proclaim the good prospects in diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Days later, in
March 2008, at home, he released a harsh interview against the "colonial" aims of the Vatican and Benedict XVI (cf. AsiaNews.it, 21/03/2008 The Vatican's "double face", according to Beijing; see also AsiaNews.it, 22/02/2008 China-Vatican relations, smoke and mirrors over the Olympics).
What happened in the drafting of the Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics gives an idea of the type of dialogue Ye had in mind. As is known, the secretary of state, to show its goodwill, sent the draft of the letter to the Chinese government. It was Ye Xiaowen himself who wrote to the Vatican, demanding the publication and circulation of the papal document be blocked.
According to AsiaNews sources in China, the very publication of the Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics, delayed the promotion of Ye to the rank of minister. For the party, in fact, only he could effectively hinder its circulation in China. Hours after publication, the Chinese web sites that had posted it were forced to withdraw it, other sites were obscured, priests were warned against its spread.
The latest feat of Ye Xaiowen was promoting a series of lectures to the bishops and priests on the kindness of the official religious policy of the Chinese government, 50 years since the founding of the Patriotic Association.
His departure from the Office for Religious Affairs is a promotion for his work, rather than a sign of policy change by China. His deputy, Wang Zuoan, 51, is known for his apparent affability, but his ideological position is the same as Ye: religious freedom is an innate right, only the party has the right to bestow or determine it.