Chinese Official Announces Plans to Loosen Government Control Over Religion

October 20, 2004

According to AsiaNews, Zhang Zunmou, Director of the Policy and Legal Department of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) said at an October conference that the Chinese government is studying ways to remove tight control over religions, curb arbitrary interference, and give religious groups greater autonomy. Zhang did not say when such steps might be taken, and did not address other questions, such as religious freedom as a human right and the future of the state-organized Patriotic Associations.

According to AsiaNews, observers in Hong Kong who follow religious affairs in China consider the announcement as a maneuver to blunt international criticism of China's poor religious freedom record. But the fact that a SARA official made the announcement may be significant, since many analysts believe that SARA has long been chief bureaucratic opponent of loosening government control over religious organizations and practice in China.