Foreign Christian missionary groups seeking to expand their outreach efforts at the Beijing Olympics next year must abide by the mainland's rules, the China Christian Council warned yesterday.
Protestant Reverend Cao Shengjie, said that these religious groups will be forbidden to follow through on evangelisation, while foreigners will be banned from organising any type of religious activity.
These declarations were in response to reports that Christian mission groups were planning to send thousands of volunteer evangelists to the Beijing Olympics as visas will be easier to get.
The government has put the number of Protestant Christians on the mainland at 16 million, which apparently includes only those going to registered churches.
But a substantial number of Protestants sign up to independent fellowships, such as house churches, and face constant persecution and harassment.
This warning to missionaries clashes with the image which China is trying to promote of itself ahead of the Olympics which represent an enormous opportunity for the country. The world’s eyes will be focused on it and that is why it is doing its utmost to represent itself in the best possible way and exploit this opportunity.
Leaders view the Olympics not only as a nationwide celebration, but also as the greatest national coming-out party in history. It is easy to believe in China's aspirations to restore itself to a position of global wealth and power.
But, to become a truly "great nation", China must make two great leaps.
First, it must become more comfortable playing an active and constructive international role.
China's second challenge concerns its hybrid capitalist-Leninist system of governance, which may not function well enough without democratic feedback and the rule of law.
But theory must be followed by practise and this warning to the world’s missionaries does not indicate an opening to democratic principals. The world meanwhile is watching and waiting.
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