Beijing (AsiaNews) Social stability should be taken into account first when introducing reforms and changes to rules and laws governing religious affairs in China, this according to the Ji Wenyuan, deputy director of the Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing. Speaking before an international conference on religion and law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing this week, Mr Ji said that "social stability and harmony" should be the basis of such laws and that China's 'special circumstances' must be taken into account.
A few days earlier, Zhang Xunmou, director of the Religious Affairs Bureau's policy and legal department, had told the conference that Beijing was planning a new law on religion that would move away from arbitrary state interference and give religious groups more autonomy.
However, in his intervention Ji Wenyuan tried to lower expectations stressing that China would not enact western-styled laws because her circumstances were different. In his view, the needs of state came before those of religions. This is the case, for example, in China's 'One child' population control policy that some religious groups do not oppose.
Currently, religious freedom is guaranteed only for those groups that are registered with government authorities and under the latter's control. This means that religious groups must acknowledge the supremacy of the Communist Party and follow government directives. Moreover, although the constitution protects freedom of religion, its protections are not enforceable in court.
In China religious freedom is a right granted by the state and not an inalienable human right. Given the growing social unrest in Chinese society, the government is concerned that religious communities might become rallying points for opposition forces. This fear explains the growing crackdown and arrest of underground religious leaders and the tightening control over official religious groups.