The Chinese government may consider changes in its religious policy at a major religious affairs conference scheduled for later this month, a senior Chinese house-church leader confirmed in late October.

Government officials in the Religious Affairs Bureau have reportedly approached several respected house church leaders asking them to influence house-church members to consider official registration and to drop what the government sees as their confrontational approach.

At least one leader, however, politely declined to cooperate, fearing that he would become a tool for government manipulation.

Several house church leaders report some easing of pressure since the summer. Possible reasons include China's joining the World Trade Organization and Beijing's obtaining the right to host the 2008 Olympic games, they said.

The Chinese government has also softened its attitude towards the Vatican after Pope John Paul II publicly apologized on October 24 for past mistakes made by Roman Catholic missionaries in China.

Although the Vatican's continued recognition of Taiwan is still a major sticking point, Beijing's conciliatory response is in marked contrast to the hostile rhetoric it employed this time last year when the Pope canonized 120 Chinese Catholic martyrs on China's National Day (October 1).

With a new feeling of conciliation abroad, the results of the forthcoming government conference on religious affairs will be awaited with great interest by Christians both inside China and abroad.

It is too soon to say whether significant advances will be made towards genuine religious freedom or whether changes made will be merely tactical and cosmetic with the aim of further dividing and controlling unregistered Protestant house-churches and ...

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