Beijing in secret talks with banned Protestant Church (January 26, 2009, Times Online)
A secret meeting between Chinese officials and leaders of the banned underground Protestant Church has marked the first significant step towards reconciliation in decades. The discussions, which were held in an office in Beijing, were the first time that members of the Government and stalwarts of the outlawed "house churches" had sat down as negotiators rather than foes, The Times has learnt. Pastor Ezra Jin, who started the Zion Church about two years ago, said that he felt the invitation had been inevitable. "The Government has a more open attitude towards religion so when they asked me to come I didn't need them to explain why," he said. Church leaders said that the Government - including the police, who have raided and crushed underground churches for years - had realised that the time for confrontation had passed. Father Jin told The Times: "The Government is anxious to work out the way to go forward. They have understood that the Protestant Church is not an opposition force but a force for stability and harmony." He added that the Government wanted to discuss the position of house churches and to evaluate whether they posed a threat to the regime. They also wanted to know why the house churches could not accept the leadership of the official body. Even more surprisingly they appeared to want advice. "They wanted to know our requirements when it comes to setting future policy," Pastor Jin said, without elaborating. In a report on the meeting another house church pastor wrote that one of the main topics was the difficulty of keeping the unofficial Church under the Government's heel. Pastors say that raids, fines and even punishments such as re-education through labour are no longer effective; if one church is broken up new ones are started. A senior economist, who openly declares his faith, said: "The closer understanding may have come in meetings between jailed pastors and the police, and those changes in attitude meant this day could come," he said.
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