Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, April 15, 2016

Competing for control of civil society

The Marxists in China's Communist Party have rejected all attempts by Roman Catholic powers to have a voice in the Chinese Catholic Church. The two powers seem to be talking to each other now. What will the future hold?

Party and pontiff
IN LATE September Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping happened to visit America at the same time… American media covered [the Pope's] every move—each appearance before an adoring crowd, and each ride he took in his humble little Fiat—while paying much less attention to Mr Xi…

Chinese officials were “shocked and flabbergasted” by the difference in the responses to the two leaders’ visits, says a Vatican analyst in Beijing. “They thought Xi Jinping was the emperor, the most important guy, and then along came this man in white to overshadow him.” Some observers believe that officials’ awakening to the pope’s popularity may help encourage them to improve relations with the Vatican…

Joseph Zhang Yinlin
Relations were already warming up before the two men went to America. In August China’s Catholic church appointed a bishop for the first time in three years. The consecration of Joseph Zhang Yinlin… was striking: it had been approved not only by China’s state-linked church, but also by the Vatican…

At the end of 2012 Mr Xi took over as China’s leader. In an attempt to strengthen the Communist Party’s grip, he launched a sweeping crackdown on civil society. In May last year he said religion must be free of foreign influence—tricky if your faith was founded by, say, a Jew, an Arab or an Indian. Still, Mr Xi has appeared open to improving relations with the Vatican. And Pope Francis, who took over the Catholic church in 2013, also seems to want better ties…

But if a permanent thaw does occur, two groups of Catholics will have cause to worry. The first are those underground Catholics who do not want anything to do with the state-backed Catholic church, even if their boycott of it incurs the pope’s displeasure…

The other group is the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Taiwan. The Vatican is one of only 22 states that have full diplomatic relations with the island, and the only one in Europe. In terms of global status, the Vatican is by far the most important of Taiwan’s friends. China says it will not establish formal relations with the Vatican unless the pope severs diplomatic ties with Taiwan…

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