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Hong Kong's new bishop admits to a realistic approach to China

In the past, Bishop Michael Yeung has been criticized for not standing up to the repression of Christians in China

Hong Kong's new bishop admits to a realistic approach to China

Bishop Michael Yeung of Hong Kong during his interview with ucanews.com on Aug. 30. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

September 19, 2017

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Bishop Michael Yeung, the new Hong Kong bishop, has outlined his approach to dealing with the religiously repressive regime in China as one of healthy realism that must consider ongoing talks between the Vatican and Beijing.

In an interview with ucanews.com, Bishop Yeung was keen to remind people that he is not a diplomat nor engaged in Vatican-Beijing negotiations, adding that he would not "rock the boat" of the relations between the church and mainland China.

"If I was not the bishop of Hong Kong and I was just a priest; maybe I will join in a lot of demonstrations. But as a bishop of Hong Kong, people will see me differently. I have to think about the Vatican-Sino relations," Bishop Yeung said his offices on Hong Kong island.

"I don't want to rock the boat. If there is any possibility to maintain the dialogue, I would by all means if it is possible," he said.

Bishop Yeung, 71, and his predecessor, Cardinal John Tong, 78, who stepped down in July, have been criticized in some Catholic circles for not speaking out enough about issues affecting Catholics on the mainland.

Among them, the fate of bishops and priests who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest, or official anti-religion campaigns such as the cross removal and church demolition campaign in the Chinese province of Zhejiang and elsewhere.

Bishop Yeung believes there should always be room left in such situations. "In Chinese, there is a saying 'you never chase someone into a cul-de-sac' because there is no place for him or her to get through and then he will come back and then you will get into a fight," he said.

"I try to view such issues as a local problem, not to escalate it so it becomes a top political issue," he said. 

"If the Wenzhou government is tearing down crosses and if it is just in Wenzhou then this is a local problem. And if it is one church, a Protestant church, then you should keep it small and manageable," he said. The bishop claimed not that many Catholic churches have been involved in the cross removal and church demolition campaign.

Bishop Yeung said the Chinese government is reluctant to lose face. "If you say you fight against it, then they will say 'alright let's have a fight,'" he said.

Bishop Yeung said the China Church faces a three-level situation: the government; the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association(CPA); and the church.

"The CPA actually (works) as a bridge between the government and the church. The government will not deal with the so-called Bishops Conference in China (even though that too is not officially sanctioned by Rome and is a Party run organization), they tell the CPA what to do," he said.

Bishop Yeung stated strongly that the Catholic Church is not a political organization but if the situation arises which is against social justice and Catholic teachings, then the church should speak up.

The bishop also took the opportunity to refute media stories that characterized him as urging people to avoid June 4 events that remember Beijing's violent suppression of the peaceful pro-democracy protest that took place in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"For June 4, I feel very sad. I have been to the annual demonstrations [in Hong Kong] quite a few times. But after 28 years, I ask myself what else can I do?" he said.

"To give June 4 fair judgement, I think is not a problem. It is written in history," he said. "But if you, at the same time, say finish up the one-party state, there is a saying that the Chinese have: 'you are asking the tiger to give its skin.'"

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