Reading tea leaves: China transfers Communist Party official

Keep your eye on China’s Hebei province, whose new Communist Party chief is the former chief in Tibet.

Zhang Qingli, who was in charge of Tibet during the 2008 crackdown on Buddhist protesters, is now in Hebei, the province that surrounds Beijing and 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 was like “reading tea leaves.”

“I can’t predict with entirety what his record is going to be” but he is “known for his persecution of religious communities and his attempts to curtail foreign influence,” Flipse told Catholic News Service.

“His experience is such that it doesn’t necessarily portend well for Vatican-Beijing relations,” he said, noting that China sees the Vatican as a foreign influence.

Vatican-Beijing relations worsened in recent months after China ordained bishops without Vatican approval and the church announced they were automatically excommunicated. China also has increased pressure on Catholics who have not registered with the government to do so.

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