Prof Zhuo Xinping, Research Professor of the Institute for the Study of World Religions within the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spoke on “Religion and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” at an RSIS Roundtable Session on 4 April 2019. The session was jointly organised by the Studies in the Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme and the China Programme of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. It was moderated by Associate Professor and Coordinator of the China Programme, Dr Li Mingjiang.
Prof Zhuo first outlined the growth of religion in contemporary China. While the percentage of the population with a religion is still small, religion is increasingly becoming significant to the Chinese society. The Chinese government acknowledges this trend and is gradually instituting policy changes related to religion. One key effort, according to Prof Zhuo, is the indigenisation or Sinicisation of religions.
While China seeks to Sinicise religious practices domestically, it also sees the need to develop understanding of religious and cultural practices of the different countries it encounters along the Silk Road. The BRI essentially remains an economic and political initiative, but Prof Zhuo noted that religious and cultural exchange can contribute to maintaining good relations with these countries. Specifically, he emphasised sensitivity and appreciation when encountering new or different religious practices.
The session concluded with a Q&A session, where Prof Zhuo addressed questions on the role of religious leaders in the process of Sinicisation and the role of religion in China’s diplomacy.