01/12/2005, 00.00
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Something new but mostly the same old rules on religion

Perhaps the only novelty is the opening to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Jewish community.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – China's new comprehensive regulations on religious affairs contain some positive elements but in other respects are even more restrictive than those they replace.

The new regulations (cf AsiaNews.it of December 20, 2004) will come into effect on March 1 and replace those issued in 1994 to administer places of worship and foreigners' religious activities.

Among the positive elements of the new rules are their nation-wide application. Under the 1994 rules religious activities such as opening of new churches and temples and appointing religious personnel were administered by provincial authorities applying at least 50 different regulatory regimes. Under the new system the same rules apply to all religions and believers across the country.

Another positive step is that the new rules do not explicitly name any one religion. Previously, the government officially recognised only five religious groups: Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Protestants and Catholics.

Some observers see this as potentially opening the door to the recognition of other religious groups, among them the Russian Orthodox Church and Judaism.

However, for years the Falun Gong movement tried unsuccessfully to obtain official recognition but was instead outlawed as an 'evil cult', bad for people and the state.

In fact, Christian groups on the mainland say the new regulations merely repackage local decrees.

The new regulations impose even greater restrictions on religious practices since local authorities now have a greater supervisory role in the appointment of personnel and finances.

"If the 13 years under Jiang Zemin represented some willingness, regardless of his sincerity, to make accommodation with religious groups, the current regulations set out the uncompromising tone of the Hu [Jintao] era," a Christian source said.

In the end, "the authorities are playing a game of words," a scholar said, "[because] the new rules are no better than the old ones".

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