Hardliner in Hebei?

Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party official who was in charge of Tibet during the crackdown on Buddhist protesters in 2008, is now the new party chief in China’s Hebei Province. Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, is a stronghold of Catholic communities that have not registered with the government. Scott Flipse, deputy director at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the organization’s China specialist, said predicting what Zhang’s appointment would mean for the Catholic Church is like “reading tea leaves.” But Qingli, he said, is “known for his persecution of religious communities and his attempts to curtail foreign influence,” and “his experience is such that it doesn’t necessarily portend well for Vatican-Beijing relations.” These relations worsened in recent months after China ordained bishops without Vatican approval and the church announced the bishops were automatically excommunicated. China also has increased pressure on unregistered Catholics.

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