China will this week hold a conference on the growth of Christianity, which has renewed accusations that the Communist government is threatened by what it sees as a competing ideology.
"There is a certain freedom of religion in China but within certain boundaries," explained Scott Pacey of Nottingham University's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.
Speaking to the Guardian, Pacey added: "The Communist party sees any competing ideology as threatening, and there are certain features it feels it needs to control."
The conference, named 'The Sinicisation of Christianity', is in part organised by China's Institute of World Religions, which has refused to share details of the agenda. However, the director of Purdue University's centre on religion and Chinese society, Yang Fenggang, told the Guardian that it is widely speculated among the Christian community in China that it will be part of government attempts to make the Church more "submissive".
"It is clear that the top leaders feel unease with Christianity," he said.
Human rights groups have long highlighted extensive abuses in China under President Xi Jinping's leadership, particularly the suppression of religious freedom.
Campaigners say the Communist Party (CPC) is becoming progressively more suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in the country. Reports suggest that up to 10,000 people are becoming Christians every day and while there were just one million believers when Mao's Communist party came to power in 1949, there are now thought to be as many as 100 million. By 2030, one expert has estimated that China will be home to more Christians than any other country in the world.
China last year announced plans to introduce its own brand of national theology and in May 2015, Xi called for a curbing of outside influences. "We must manage religious affairs in accordance with the law and adhere to the principle of independence to run religious groups on our own accord," he said at a top-level CPC meeting. "Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions into socialist society."
Additionally, up to 1,700 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed in Zhejiang province alone as part of a three-year 'Three Rectifications and One Demolition' campaign, supposedly with the aim of exposing and removing "illegal structures" in the region. More human rights activists and lawyers – many of whom worked on behalf of these churches – have been arrested in the past two years than in the previous two decades combined.
China's official newspaper on religious issues, Zhongguo Mingzu Bao, recently alluded to a further crackdown on churches, clergy and dioceses in the country. Published on October 8, an article implied that Xi wants to "minimise foreign influence on Chinese institutions".
Following this assertion, a Chinese priest warned that faith groups should expect greater CPC interference.
Speaking to ucanews.com, the priest said: "It's obvious that control on religions is to be tightened.
"It was theory and slogans in the past. Now it becomes a real game to play."