10/26/2017, 12.16
CHINA-VATICAN

Improvements for Church unlikely in wake of CCP Congress. As is a papal trip to Beijing

by Li Yuan

Under the new leadership presented yesterday, Wang Yang should be the head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference which deals with religious groups. Despite being considered a liberal,  he must toe the line dictated by Xi Jinping on the "sinicization of religions." Wang Zuoan, Director of State Administration for Religious Affairs, was dismissed by the Central Committee. In an interview he clarifies that China-Vatican dialogue is "low key" but "but some problems are not so simple and cannot be solved in a short time". No imminent visit by the pontiff to China.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Communist Party of China has unveiled its new top leadership a day after with the closing of the weeklong 19th National Congress that ended on Oct 24.Several Catholics and opinion leaders are skeptical of the possibilities for an improvement for the life of the Church. And Wang Zuoan, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, ruled out that Pope Francis could visit China any time soon.

While Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, China President and Premier, were re-elected as expected, five other members were new faces in the standing committee of the Politburo with Wang Yang rank fourth in the lineup. It means he is set for, as tradition, the head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body of Beijing responsible to liaise with religious groups among other duties.

Willy Lam Wo-lap, an expert on China Studies, told Hong Kong-based "852 Post" that there were rumors before the 19th congress that Wang, who is labeled as a reformist, could climb higher up as the first vice premier and demonstrate his ability in economic reform. But as the CPPCC chairman now, his job will have little relation with economy.

As for religious affairs, some Chinese Catholics who are active on social media think Wang, as shown from his career path, does not seem to be familiar with religion, an issue that the Communist Party regards as sensitive, with former President Jiang Zemin once described as “no small matters” in 1993.

Though media outside China labeled Wang Yang as a liberal, they said the thinking of an official would be affected by the position he or she held and thus Wang may not be as liberal on religious affairs like when he was a vice premier dealing with economic affairs. “After all, things are not decided by him alone. The new leadership is unlikely to bring change to the current situation of the church,” said Joseph, a lay Catholic who only gives his baptismal name.

Wang certainly has to follow the direction of Sinicization of religion established by Xi Jinping, whose opening speech on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era, or the so-called “Xi Jinping Thought” has got passed as part of the Party dogma in the congress.

 

The leadership election of the 19th Congress was believed rather competitive and complicated as reflected from the different rumored name lists of leadership lineup that spread around before the congress.

Result showed there are 126 new faces out of total 204 members in the Central Committee while 78 former members were voted out, including Wang Zuoan, 59, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

According to some Chinese political websites, Xi reportedly interviewed each of the candidates of the Central Committee before the election. Some were told they could not stay in the Central Committee while some were asked to make sacrifice for the Party as there are more new members vying for the limited posts. It is unclear what was the reason for Wang not getting re-elected.

Wang, who has not yet reached retirement age, unusually spoke twice to the Hong Kong-based Commercial Radio on the sidelines during the 19th Congress.

In his first written reply to the Commercial Radio published on Oct 21, Wang said he noticed Pope Francis’ sincerity to China and his wish to visit the country while he reiterated the two conditions for China-Vatican relations, namely sever ties with Taiwan and not to interfere China’s domestic affairs in the name of religion.

Three days later, on Oct 24, the Commercial Radio published more comments of Wang, who said that communication channels between China and the Vatican are smooth, “but some problems are not that simple and could not be settled in a short time.” He said it needs sincerity and practical actions from both sides.

Wang also declined to disclose specific questions about the appointment of bishops, which is known to be a core and thorny issue in the ongoing negotiations.

As an apparent clarification to his prior interview, Wang said that he did not mean that there is an upcoming papal visit to China but stressed that he thinks the prospects of China-Vatican relation looks fine.

After the publication of his first interview, many Taiwan media interpreted as Beijing’s positive response to the aspiration of Pope Francis to visit Beijing and that the Holy See’s relation with Taiwan is in crisis. 

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