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‘Don't use religion to interfere’ in China

The Straits Times, 18 August 2000

Country's spiritual leaders warn foreign countries against meddling in its affairs in the name of religion and deny Beijing lacks religious freedom

BEIJING -- China's top religious leaders warned foreign countries against meddling in domestic affairs on the pretext of upholding religious freedom, Chinese press reported yesterday.

Some countries use religious freedom as an excuse to fuel separatism in other countries. These acts go against the world's religions, the Venerable Jamyang, vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China, was quoted by the China Daily as saying.

Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders gathered on Wednesday in Beijing to prepare for the Millennium World Peace Summit, to be held from August 28-31 in the US and at which China is a participant.

The leaders warned of the dangers of American hegemony and rejected international criticism that China lacked religious freedom.

Ven Jamyang, a Buddhist, originally from Tibet, denied Tibet was without religious freedom or that China was destroying the indigenous culture in the Himalayan region, claiming both allegations were groundless.

The Tibetan cultural heritage can only be better preserved and the freedom of religious belief be better protected through developing the economy and improving people's life in the region, he said, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The Right Reverend Fu Tieshan, the Bishop of Beijing, who will lead the Chinese delegation at the Religious Summit, warned against the possible presence of the banned Falungong movement at the summit.

All of the religions, and the conference, will be tarnished if they are given the authority to attend, he said, according to Xinhua.

He said that China banned Falungong because it violates the law by causing social unrest and infringing on other people's rights.

Founded eight years ago, Falungong attracted millions of followers, drawn by its blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and its founder Li Hongzhi.

Its members say that the practice promotes health, moral living and, in experts, supernatural powers.

But the Chinese authorities have outlawed the group since July last year and declared it a public menace and an unprecedented threat to Communist Party rule.

The Chinese government has accused the group of cheating followers, driving some to insanity, and causing 1,500 deaths, mostly among practitioners who refused medical treatment.

China counts 100 million believers among its major religions. --AFP, China Daily/Asia News Network, Xinhua