China’s new Ordinance on Religious Affairs

This one has been on the way for some time. Last week the new Ordinance on Religious Affairs was published, which is to take effect on 1 February 2018. To publicise the new rules, we find Yu Zhengsheng, a senior political advisor, making the following points:

Conflicts and disputes involving ethnic and religious factors should be dealt with in accordance with the law concerned to safeguard social harmony and stability.

We must resolutely resist overseas infiltration via religious means and prevent missionary activities in educational institutions.

Apart from promoting traditional Chinese culture and national unity, Yu also stressed that “socialist core values should guide and educate religious figures and their followers.” I love that one.

But what is the background to these new ordinances? The Institute for World Religion Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been engaged in research for some time (I have played a modest part in the process). So we find Liu Guopeng, from the institute, observing that Protestant groups have been growing and – due to conservative tendencies among some – have been condemning Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. And external influences have radicalised some elements among the Xinjiang Uyghur and Ningxia Hui nationalities.

The key in these cases is that all religions should stick to independence and self-governance and not be controlled by any foreign entity – whether Christian, Muslim or indeed Buddhist. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), set up with the work of the Chinese Christian communist, Yu Yaozong, and Zhou Enlai, is perhaps the best example of this, which is one of the largest Protestant organisations in the world.




Myanmar’s Rohingya issue

This one is more complex than one is led to believe. About 300,000 Rohingya (Muslims mostly) have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. But what is actually going on?

For some corporate media it is ‘ethnic cleansing’, providing stories that retell what journalists have been told by Rohingya individuals – of villages destroyed and people forced to flee. For Modi and the Indian government, the Myanmar government’s account is correct: terrorists are causing distinct problems and the military is responding. India’s geopolitical concerns obviously play a role here. But perhaps the most balanced assessment comes from Chinese sources (here, here and here).

The immediate background: on 25 August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on 30 police posts in Rakhine state in the northwest. The military responded with force, seeking to deal with terrorist activity. Hundreds of thousands have since fled the war zone.

The longer background: economic backwardness among the Rohingya, cultural and religious (Buddhist-Muslim) tensions, denial to Rohingya of citizenship, extremist Muslim activities.

Given long Chinese experiences with such issues, the articles I mentioned tend to take a longer view. They point out the need for both short-term and long-term policies that will deal with the immediate problems but not forget the deeper issues that need to be addressed. From a Chinese perspective, the fundamental human right is the one to economic wellbeing, with the others (civic, political and religious) following.