Carey heartened by Church in China

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, yesterday ended his controversial visit to China with an upbeat assessment of the rapidly growing Christian movement. 'In the main, religious toleration is a reality,' he said. 'The Church is growing, and that growth is generally unimpeded.' But he admitted that 'the picture . . . is uneven'.

Dr Carey said he had raised religious rights issues with the government during the 12-day trip, but senior Chinese officials responded with little more than platitudes. He said he had 'expressed particular concern' to a senior state leader about a case in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province, in March 1993 when 'extreme violence' was used by public security officials to shut down an unofficial church. The subject was brought up during a 40-minute meeting with Ismael Amat, the state councillor with responsibility for ethnic and religious affairs.

'The response was that the government was aware of reported abuses and he (Mr Amat) promised me that that particular instance I referred to would be looked at more carefully, and he was going to take this up with the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB),' the Archbishop said.

The case, in which one man died after being beaten, has already been well-documented and publicised outside China, but no action has been taken by the Chinese government in the past year and a half to bring the culprits to account.

The previous day, the Archbishop had asked RAB officials for clarification about arrests of members of the Jesus Family group in Shandong and other provinces. 'The response was rather opaque, because they were unprepared for that particular illustration,' admitted Dr Carey. In other meetings, he asked about reported violations of the Chinese government's freedom-of-information policy in provinces such as Anhui, Henan and Shaanxi.

Despite these well-documented cases, Dr Carey said: 'It is quite clear that the official policy of the government is not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Church, but rather to protect the people's right to exercise their faith within the confines of the law.'

Asked if he had seen the 'dark side' of Christianity in China, Dr Carey said: 'We have certainly seen the shadows. But against the shadows, the picture is generally an encouraging one, getting healthier all the time. I could so easily have come here and had my own agenda, and given lists of incidents and abuses. It would have done no good whatsoever.'

Many before him, senior statesmen included, have indeed had little success when raising individual human rights cases with the authorities.

The difficulties of being trapped on an official visit to China, most of the time cocooned from casual contact with ordinary people, and often stonewalled by the cadres, had left the Archbishop's team weary.

Privately, he likened the experience to deep-sea diving; things were clear on the surface, but the deeper one went, the harder it was to see anything. 'You have to hope that eventually you will touch reality,' he was described as saying.

Dr Carey nevertheless saw little wrong with the new religious laws introduced this year. Order 145, which states that all religious groups must register, would help 'protect' unofficial churches rather than be an instrument of repression, the Archbishop said. But he admitted that it all depended on how the laws were implemented.