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Associated Press
Washington – A senior Chinese official is trying to calm U.S. misgivings ahead of Beijing’s coming Olympic Games about what the Bush administration sees as religious intolerance in China.
The director of China’s religious affairs bureau met in Washington with U.S. officials and spoke at a Roman Catholic institution, Georgetown University.
Ye Xiaowen told reporters Wednesday, after talks with Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, that China’s peaceful development depends upon respect for human rights and religious beliefs. Ye said he also met with President George W. Bush’s ambassador for international religious freedom, John Hanford, and with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington.
China has been a target of international criticism that its communist-led government abuses and stymies the voices of its people and ignores violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. Some have demanded sanctions involving the August Olympics, but the Chinese government has said repeatedly that politics should be kept out of the games.
Ye criticized as groundless last year’s State Department report on religious freedom that said China continued to repress religious groups and was cracking down ahead of the Olympics to tamp down possible dissent.
China’s leaders allow worship only in government-monitored churches, temples and mosques. Members of unofficial congregations frequently are jailed and harassed.
Ye also said that China’s Olympic preparations meant it had “no time” for anger over last year’s presentation by Congress of a Congressional Gold Medal, its most prestigious award, to the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, who Beijing says is trying to make Tibet independent from China.
China, Ye said, is ready to improve ties with the Vatican, provided Catholic officials recognize that self-governing Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. He provided no timeline for reconciliation.
China has clashed with the Vatican over the right to appoint bishops independently without papal approval and the Holy See’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Vatican is one of about two-dozen countries that have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, an island across the Taiwan Strait that China considers a province in rebellion.
Ye said he came to America to speak at Georgetown, which was founded by a Jesuit in the 18th century. His bureau is responsible for supervising activities by China’s five officially recognized religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Catholics and Protestants.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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