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Russian Orthodox head meets China's Xi Jinping

First ever meeting between Christian and Chinese leaders

Russian Orthodox head meets China's Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) greets Patriarch Kirill (photo courtesy of reporter, Hong Kong

May 10, 2013

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The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in Beijing at the start of a landmark visit to China.

In the first ever meeting between the head of a Christian Church and a Communist Chinese leader, Xi focused on the significance of the visit for Sino-Russian ties in their meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

“You are the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the first Russian supreme religious leader to visit our country. This is a clear manifestation of the high level and quality of Sino-Russian relations,” Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti cited Xi as saying.

“This is evidence of the special relationship between Russia and China which has emerged in recent years,” the patriarch said.

A China observer who declined to be named said that the visit pointed to a desire by the Communist government to recognize the Russian Orthodox Church and its role within Russian society.

“For a long time, China has ignored the fact that the Orthodox Church has a great influence in Russian political circles. This meeting would enable China to explore the role of religion in developing relations with Russian and other Orthodox countries,” he said.

The 66-year-old patriarch was received at Beijing airport this morning by a vice-director of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, which made the invitation.

Patriarch Kirill was scheduled to meet with the leaders of China’s five recognized religions – Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism and Protestantism – before heading northeast to Harbin, a city with a strong Russian influence, and finally to Shanghai where he will end his six-day visit.

Another China analyst who also requested anonymity said that full recognition of the Chinese Orthodox Church remained “unlikely” despite the visit but there would be greater scope for religious and cultural exchanges between the two neighbors. 

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