China’s proposed new, nationalist religious regulations target foreigners

Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. (Photo courtesy: PTI)

(, Jan03’21) – As if existing regulations are not draconian enough already, China is set to promulgate a new religious policy, with focus on regulating religious activities by foreigners but with implications on domestic religious practitioners and others as well.

The draft regulations for “Provisions on the Administration of Foreign Religious Activities in the People’s Republic of China”, published by the Ministry of Justice in mid-November were opened for public comments till Dec 17 and will become law early this year.

The first of the regulations’ five chapters stipulates that foreigners conducting religious activities shall abide by China’s laws, regulations and rules, respect the principles of Chinese religious independence and must not violate public order and good customs in China.

The second chapter is seen to target foreign missionaries. It requires foreign worshippers who want to host religious activities in China to apply for a permit. It further specifies what documents foreign missionaries need to provide when applying for a permit, viz., describing the primary religious texts used, listing all attendees’ names, visa status and nationalities, giving a detailed program of the service, etc. It forbids foreign missionaries from carrying out religious education & training, converting new believers, or accepting religious donations from Chinese citizens, and any such activity that undermines China’s national unity.

Religious activities organized by foreigners in China could be attended by only foreign citizens.

While the third chapter specifies that foreign missionaries shall be allowed to conduct friendly religious exchanges, it also requires them to demonstrate that they are “friendly to China” in their country of origin.

The phrase ‘friendly to China’ is an obvious pointer towards Tibet, noted Jan 2. 

The fourth chapter makes it clear that offenders shall be dealt with by China’s national security organs under ‘Counter Espionage Law of the People’s Republic of China’. And it will not be just foreigners but also “public officials who abuse their powers or engage in malpractices for the personal gain while managing religious activities of foreigners” who will also be punished.

And the fifth chapter deals with the responsibilities of the religious organizations in the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities under direct administration of the Central Government. Besides, it states that overseas Chinese living in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, conducting religious activities in the Mainland, shall also be dealt with under the new rules.

China issued its first set of such regulations in 1994, followed by revisions in 2000 and 2010. By emphasizing the religious independence of China and its national unity, the administration of President Xi Jinping intends to layover CCP’s ideology on free religious beliefs, both legally and bureaucratically, said the report.


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