The Beijing government's Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) will not set up an office in Hong Kong, nor will it implement religious regulations or policy after the territory's return to Chinese sovereignty in July next year.
This assurance was given by Beijing's leading official on religion, Ye Xiaowen, head of the RAB in the Chinese capital, to religious leaders in Hong Kong.
In China, the RAB is responsible for regulating religious matters. It oversees official laws on religion which require all local and national religious organisations to register with the government. In May this year, an international 13-member team sponsored by the World Council of Churches visited China to examine the regulation of religion and found that, despite "some general restrictions" and some "blatant" interference by officials at a local level, there was "surprising" tolerance of religion.
However, some of Hong Kong's 500,000 Christians are concerned about possible Beijing government interference in Church life after the handover. Ye's comments, which suggest that there will be no attempt to interfere, were made during a nine-day visit late in June to Hong Kong where he and other RAB officials from Beijing met Christian, Buddhist, Confucianist, Muslim and Taoist leaders.
According to Asia Focus, a Roman Catholic newsletter published in Hong Kong, Ye said the RAB would not interfere in or administer religious affairs in Hong Kong because it observed both the state policy of "one country, two systems" and the Hong Kong Basic Law, which was agreed between the Chinese and British governments.
Mainlanders should not try to make Hong Kong people conform to mainland ideas, nor should Hong Kong people try this with mainlanders, Ye said.
Asia Focus reported that when he was received by Hong Kong's Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung and other Catholic officials, Ye asked questions about Church schools and seminaries, and was "interested in knowing about the Internet and whether Church bodies are linked with the Vatican through such means".