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Beijing Holds Secret Talks with Banned Churches as 100 Million Defy Party Rules

ICC Note:

The Times Online is reporting that a secret meeting between Chinese officials and the leaders of the underground Protestant house churches took place at the end of last year. Though the meeting was apparently one of open negotiation, the timing is interesting and somewhat suspect in that this year is the “60th anniversary of communist power and the Government is keen to ensure that there are no disturbances to mar its celebrations.”

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1/26/09 China (TimesOnline) A secret meeting between Chinese officials and leaders of the banned underground Protestant Church has marked the first significant step towards reconciliation in decades.

The discussions, which were held in an office in Beijing, were the first time that members of the Government and stalwarts of the outlawed “house churches” had sat down as negotiators rather than foes, The Times has learnt.

The timing was significant: this year is the 60th anniversary of communist power and the Government is keen to ensure that there are no disturbances to mar its celebrations.

For three decades China has allowed officially sanctioned churches to operate within strict limits. Protestants are supposed to worship under the aegis of the official religious body, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement — standing for self-governing, self-teaching and self-supporting. Catholics can worship in churches run by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Other Christian organisations are illegal.

The official Church puts the number of Protestants at about 21 million and Catholics at about 5 million. That means more than 100 million Christians are worshipping independently.

Pastor Jin told The Times: “The Government is anxious to work out the way to go forward. They have understood that the Protestant Church is not an opposition force but a force for stability and harmony.”

He added that the Government wanted to discuss the position of house churches and to evaluate whether they posed a threat to the regime. They also wanted to know why the house churches could not accept the leadership of the official body.

Even more surprisingly, they appeared to want advice. “They wanted to know our requirements when it comes to setting future policy,” Pastor Jin said, without elaborating.

In a report on the meeting, another house church pastor wrote that one of the main topics was the difficulty of keeping the unofficial church under the Government’s heel. Pastors say that raids, fines and even punishments such as re-education through labour are no longer effective; if one church is broken up new ones are started.

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