China’s cabinet has passed new rules to regulate religion, stating it has been done to bolster national security, “fight extremism” and restrict faith practiced outside organizations approved by the state.
The document, passed by Premier Li Keqiang, updates a version of rules put into place in 2005 to allow the regulation of religion to better reflect “profound” changes in China and the world, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The rules, released by Xinhua, claimed to be needed to protect China’s national security against threats from religious groups.
“Any group or individual must not create conflict or contention between different religions, with a single religion or between religious individuals and non-religious individuals,” it says.
President Xi Jinping justified the measure by claiming it is needed to guard against foreign infiltration through religion and the need to prevent the spread to “extremist” ideology, while also being tolerant of traditional faiths that he sees as a salve to social ills.
The officially atheist ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.
The rules, which come into effect on Feb 2, 2018, also place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups, and the construction of religious buildings, among other things.
They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.
Much of China’s religious practice, which has seen a revival in recent decades despite being effectively banned in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution, takes place in informal settings not recognized, though often tolerated, by authorities.