Beijing, Dec 24 (IANS) China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, has about 25 million Christians, said a state-run Chinese daily Monday.
An article in the Global Times Monday cited official statistics to say that China has about 25 million Christians, a sharp increase from 16 million in 2005 and more than 30 times the number in 1949.
The daily quoted Harvey Cox, a theologian in Rome, as saying that China could well become home to the world's largest Christian population in the next two decades. The United States has the world's largest population of Christians pegged at 247 million in 2010.
"Prejudiced observers believe that the CPC seeks to expel religious groups, whose prominent growth symbolizes the failure of the Party's religious policies," it said.
The daily insisted that China has publicly promoted the freedom of religion, which differs from the freedom advocated in the West.
"The role of religion in China is different from that in the West.
"...Religion doesn't play a role in every aspect of social life in China as it does in the West. There are few disputes about this."
Some interpret this as reflecting the Communist Party of China (CPC) new "reconciliation policy" with religion.
"But in fact, the party has long held clear guidelines on absorbing the wisdom of religious groups and promoting their positive role in boosting economic growth and cultural prosperity.
"It's widely agreed that China has witnessed an increasingly relaxed religious environment in the past three decades, a period of undeniable importance in the nation's Christian history."
The article went on to say that there have been cases of local governments intervening in religious affairs. "But they are isolated ones and cannot represent the whole picture of China's religious freedom. Such cases are becoming fewer in number. Managing religions according to the law is the trend."