Leading Article: A rosy view of the Church in China

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The Independent Online
GEORGE CAREY, the Archbishop of Canterbury, must have known he would be criticised for his visit to China. He deserves credit at least for putting his sense of duty before concerns about his lowish reputation. The odds were against him. It is one thing for senior members of the Clinton administration to do business with the hard men in Peking. They must consider the broader economic and geopolitical interests of the United States. It is another for the head of the Anglican church to accept hospitality from an organisation, the China Christian Council, representing the officially sanctioned Protestant Church.

However firmly senior Western churchmen resist being duped, official visits by them to countries with poor human rights records are likely to be used by the authorities as evidence of their own tolerance for the views of minorities. It was fear of his visit being manipulated by the Sudanese government that led Dr Carey to cancel his visit to Khartoum in January.

He decided to go to China, he said yesterday in Peking, because he wanted to listen, learn, encourage fellow Christians there and return with a more informed view of their situation. Christianity is enjoying a boom as the country experiences great social change. In 1979 there were few open churches, now there are 8,000 within the China Church Council alone. At his press conference, the Archbishop acknowledged that some Christians had suffered violence and been unlawfully detained. He pointed out that he had drawn a number of such instances to the attention of those in government.

Yet overall he painted a strikingly rosy view of a country in which 'religious toleration is a reality . . . and the stated policy of the government is not to interfere with the internal affairs of the Church but rather to protect the people's right to exercise their faith within the confines of the law.' He saw nothing to be feared from the obligatory registration of churches, while conceding that its implementation would have to be monitored. He even showed understanding for a new law forbidding foreigners to proselytise uninvited in China.

No doubt Dr Carey himself benefited from contact with the 'fervent and vibrant faith' that he encountered, and emerged much better informed about an important country. No doubt, too, that his visit heartened many Chinese Christians. Yet overall the balance looks negative. Even without the final fanfare of usefully nave quotes, Dr Carey's visit has armed China's leadership with ample material with which to rebut critics of its human rights record.