China is revising regulations this year to better protect the interests of religious groups and curb extremism, according to faith leaders.
Any amendments would constitute the first revision of the Regulations on Religious Affairs, drafted by the State Administration on Religious Affairs, since their adoption in March 2005.
Huang Xinyang, vice-president of the Taoist Association of China, said the first draft of the newly amended regulations had been drawn up following several rounds of discussion with various religious groups. He predicted that the regulations could be enacted within the next nine months.
“We expect the new regulations to thwart fraud perpetrated in the name of religion,” said Huang on the sidelines of a panel discussion of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on March 4.
He used as an example a problem that the Taoist association is currently facing－fraudsters, pretending to be adherents of Taoism, who camp out in front of the association’s Baiyun Temple headquarters and attempt to scam believers out of money.
“Right now, we can’t do anything about it,” said Huang.
Zhu Weiqun, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee, confirmed on March 5 that the first draft of the new regulations had been formulated, and that opinions were still being solicited as a priority.
“There have been new developments in the past few years, including the flow of religious believers from the western to the eastern provinces seeking job opportunities,” said Zhu, who described the new regulations as more detailed than the previous version.
For Fu Xianwei, chairman of the China Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches, an update to the regulations was welcome to better reflect the increased number of believers in the country and the advancement of religious causes.
“I believe the revision will help different religions to better adapt to China’s socialist society,” he said.
Yang Zhibo, vice-president of the Islamic Association of China, said he expected the new regulations to curb religious extremism and increase legal consciousness among believers.
They will also impose greater requirements on government officials to protect the legal interests of religious groups, he said.
“The regulations will offer better protection for the interests of Muslims in China, and will also impose higher requirements on them to obey the law and regulations,” said Yang, whose association has been consulted on the draft.
In November 2014, the legislature in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region issued the first regional regulation on religious affairs targeting extremism.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs began the process of amending the national regulations last year, as announced by Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, during a panel discussion last March.
One change that some experts have called for is the granting of legal person status to religious venues, enabling them to open banks accounts and receive better legal supervision.
Feng Yujun, director of the law and religions research center at the Renmin University of China, said that such status was key to protecting the rights of religious groups and their ownership of property.
“This revision of the regulations would be a good opportunity to make clear property ownership under religious groups,” he wrote in a column in China Ethnic News in November.
But Liu Peng, a senior research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said legislation is a more suitable alternative to a regulation issued by SARA.
“The rule of law must cover religion as well,” he said.
“A regulation on religion issued by a central government department means that no court may not accept religious cases when a dispute arises. Then the parties involved can only resort to the religious authorities to solve their disputes, but what if a dispute arises between a religious group and a local religious authority?”