Beijing: China's ruling Communist Party has told its 90 million members to shun religion for maintaining party unity, warning that religious belief is a "red line" for its members and those who resist would be punished. The head of China's top religious affairs regulator said that party members should not seek value and faith in religion and those who have religious belief should be persuaded to give it up.
Experts said the direction is meant to maintain party unity, the official media reported today. "Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a redline for all members... Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party's faith... They are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion," Wang Zuoan, Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs wrote in an article released in the Qiushi Journal on Saturday, the flagship magazine of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee.
Officials who have religious faith should be persuaded to give it up, and those who resist would be punished by the party, Mr Wang wrote.
The order came as the Communist Party of China, which has 88.76 million members, geared up to hold its 19th Congress expected to be in October, where President Xi Jinping, who heads the party and the military, is likely to get elected for another five-year term.
Mr Wang said the party members are also forbidden from supporting or getting involved in religious affairs in the name of developing the economy or diversifying culture.
Elaborating on the new order by the party, Zhu Weiqun, Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said, "It is important that Wang constantly reminds party members not to have religious beliefs. Some people who claim to be scholars support religious beliefs in the party, which has undermined the party's values based on dialectical materialism."
"Once the party's values are damaged, party unity as well as the party's basic policy to regulate religions would be sabotaged," Mr Zhu told state-run Global Times.
Mr Wang also stressed the need for a firm political direction in managing religious affairs. "We should guide religious groups and individuals with socialist core values and excellent traditional Chinese culture to dig into their doctrines to find parts that are beneficial to social harmony and development," Mr Wang said.
Apparently referring to the fast-spreading Christianity in China, which Beijing apprehends posed a major threat as it could emerge as a force like in previously socialist countries like Poland to overthrow Communist Party rule, Mr Wang said foreign forces are "infiltrating" into China in the name of religion.
China also has over 20 million Muslims. Xinjiang where the Turkik-speaking Uygur Muslims are a majority is in turmoil as Uygurs were restive about the increasing settlements of majority Hans from other provinces.
Next to Buddhism, Christianity is regarded as the fastest-growing religion in Communist China.
The ruling Communist Party of China has tenuous ties with Rome, apprehending political impact of the rapid growth of Christianity as it could become a movement in later years challenging the CPC's power base.
Two Chinese nationals, accused of being involved in preaching in Pakistan, were killed allegedly by ISIS terrorists in Baluchistan.
Recent reports spoke of backchannel contacts between Beijing and Vatican to establish diplomatic ties which broke off in 1951, two years after CPC came to power.
"Some foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China, and extremism and illegal religious activities are spreading in some places, which have threatened national security and social stability," Mr Wang added.
Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Committee, said, "Guiding religions to suit to China's development is a core policy to solve China's religious problems. The moves evolve with traditional Chinese values over years and meet the demand of socialist development."
Mr Su said the regulation banning party members from having religious belief would be permanent, but may involve more work in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Gansu Province as well as southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.