Beijing: Religion in China must be independent from "foreign influence" and domestic religious groups must pledge loyalty to the state, President Xi Jinping has said amid warming of Beijing's ties with the Vatican after decades of hostility.
Authorities must value the influence of persons in the religious sphere and guide them to better serve for the nation's development, harmony and unification, Xi said at a meeting of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), to realise the Chinese Dream.
"We must manage religious affairs in accordance with the law and adhere to the principle of independence to run religious groups on our own accord. The development of religions in China should be independent of foreign influence," state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying, in apparent reference to Christianity, which is spreading in China without much links with Vatican.
"Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions in socialist society," Xi, also the General Secretary of the CPC, said, adding that religions in China must be Chinese.
Though China is governed by the officially atheist Communist Party, Buddhism and Taoism have struck roots in the country for centuries.
Addressing a high-level party meeting that sought to unite non-Communist Party groups and individuals, Xi promised to fully implement the Party's policy of religious freedom and manage religious affairs in line with the law.
For the first time in recent history, the Pope and the Chinese government greeted each other last year when the pontiff was allowed for the first time to fly through Chinese airspace on way to South Korea.
"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens and I invoke the divine blessing of peace and well-being upon the nation," the Pope had said in a radio message to Xi as he flew over China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry had said that China hopes to conduct constructive dialogue with the Vatican and promote the improvement of bilateral relations strained over differences on administering Churches.
Allowing the papal fly-by shows the Chinese government's courtesy, and is a sign of possible detente, Wang Meixiu, a research fellow with the Institute of World Religion Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told state-run Global Times.
Wang noted that the main obstacle between the two countries is that the Vatican does not recognise the authority of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
According to recent studies, China has over 52 million Christians, a majority of them Protestants many of them practices their religion in Home Churches due to lack of access to the main Cathedrals whose number was stated to be around 56,000.