SHENYANG, China -- Three local governments in northeastern China have sent home hundreds of South Korean religious people operating there since late last year and taken measures to have their churches closed, as China is expected to implement ramped-up regulations to control religious activities early next year, sources close to the situation said Monday.
From late last year to the first half of this year, the authorities in the three provinces -- Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang -- had hundreds out of around 1,000 South Korean pastors and missionaries living there leave China, resulting in the disbandment of most South Korean religious communities there. All South Korean churches in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province, were closed as of early this month.
The Chinese authorities have offered no clear reasons for the measures taken against South Korean religious people and churches.
A worship service at a Chinese church. (EPA-Yonhap)
A source said the Chinese side strongly recommended South Korean religious people return home as they believed South Korean pastors in the region close to the border with North Korea were involved in activities supporting North Korean defectors.
"As they were sent back home, churches were closed automatically," the source said.
The authorities' action is also interpreted as a pre-emptive measure before China implements the new ordinance on religious affairs, which will take effect Feb. 1 of next year.
The endorsement in September of the ordinance by the State Council, China's Cabinet, is aimed at strengthening controls to "eradicate extremism."
Under the ordinance, organizers of unapproved religious activities in China will face fines of up to 300,000 yuan ($46,000) and anybody providing a venue for "illegal religious events" will face fines of between 20,000 yuan and 200,000 yuan.
The new rules, which apply to all religions ranging from Christianity to Buddhism, also allow lower-level authorities to take care of affairs relating to unsanctioned religious activities, which will bring religious groups in China under tighter scrutiny. (Yonhap)