Milan (AsiaNews) – Is China’s Communist Party overhauling its position on religious freedom? A question mark still hangs over the issue and will do so until party’s policies towards religion truly change. But there is hope as a result of an unusual yet important event. On 18 December the politburo of the Communist Party of China held a plenary collective study session on religion, overcoming the traditionally anti-religious stand of its official ideology.
The meeting was not one of the many conferences designed to bring party religious affairs officials up to date on issues that their sensitive supervisory job entails. It was instead the second plenum of the politburo since the Party Congress ended in October, involving the top party officials who might eventually carry out policy reforms.
As reported the next day in the Xinhua news agency President Hu Jintao, who is also party secretary, took part in the session. In his address he stressed the positive role religion plays in building a harmonious society and called on the party to pay more attention to religion’s positive contribution. For China’s top leader, a priority remains the promotion of social harmony between political parties, ethnic groups, religions and social strata, a goal that is important for the country’s economic and social development.
Although Xinhua’s report focused on different points depending on whether it was in English or Chinese, it did not contain any of the usual ideological reticence with regards to the dangers posed by religious practice.
“We shall fully understand the new problems and challenges to manage religious affairs so that we can do it right,” Mr Hu said.
More significant was the fact that in addition to Mu Zhongjian, an expert on Confucianism from the Central University of Nationalities, Prof Zhuo Xinping, a specialist on Christianity from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who trained at a German theological institute, was invited to speak at the event.
Let us hope that the question mark with which we started this piece might lead the People’s Republic of China to take a courageous step and rethink its religious policies so that China’s Catholic minority might be able to do its utmost for social harmony.