China released draft rules to regulate foreigners' religious activities, in a move to provide services and protect foreigners' religious beliefs, and the Chinese government will not interfere or control such activities in line with the law, a religion observer said.
The guidelines, drafted by the State Administration of Religious Affairs and released on Monday, state that foreigners should appoint at least three conveners who would apply for group religious activities at religious venues or temporary sites.
Conveners should have clean records, and those working for diplomatic representatives in China and others who also enjoy privileges and immunities cannot serve as conveners, read the guidelines.
The guidelines serve to guarantee foreigners' freedom of religious belief and regulate their group religious activities in China. Group religious activities refer to activities organized and attended by at least 50 foreigners.
Foreigners should apply to local religious authorities for group activities in religious venues, and should submit certain information, including the personal information of participants, the qualifications and safety of the temporary site and a description of the religious activity when held at a temporary site, the guidelines say.
"It's important for the Chinese government to manage the religious activities of foreigners, as the number of foreigners living in China has increased, and many of them have religious beliefs," Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told the Global Times.
Denying speculations that the Chinese government may tighten control over religious activities attended by foreigners, Zhu said that the Chinese government is offering better services to foreigners in need of group religious activities.
Group religious activities held by foreigners at religious venues should be presided over by Chinese religious faculty arranged by the venues. And for any religious activity that must be presided over by foreigners, the religious venues should inform local religion authorities, the draft rules say.
The guidelines also said that Chinese citizens are not allowed to attend group religious activities organized by foreigners, except Chinese religious faculty appointed by local religious organizations.
"The guidelines could also prevent some foreign forces from using religion to control Chinese religious groups or conduct subversive or political activities," Zhu said.
The draft rules are seeking public comment until June 7.
China has adopted regulations on the religious activities of foreigners within its territory as early as 1994, which have allowed foreigners to attend religious activities at temples, mosques, churches and other sites, and protect friendly relations, and cultural and academic exchanges on religion between foreigners and Chinese religious groups.