The head of the Anglican church in Hong Kong has spoken out against the campaign to remove crosses from churches in the Chinese province of Zhejiang.
The cross removal campaign, which has led to physical clashes and some cross burnings, reflects growing anxiety on the Chinese mainland about the rise of fast-growing evangelical church communities.
More than 1,200 crosses in Zheijang have been removed since the campaign began nearly two years ago. Some churches have also been demolished, including the multi-million dollar Three Self Patriotic Movement church in Wangling and the $5 million Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, both in Zhejiang.
Archbishop Kwong, speaking to his church's diocesan newspaper, the Echo, said: "Placing a cross on top of a church is a common practice in Christianity. If the Zhejiang authorities think there is a safety concern to have an oversized cross, it only needs to order the church to change for a smaller one.
"Now that the authorities forcefully removed the cross without obvious and immediate danger, it is damaging religious freedom and trampling on Christianity."
Archbishop Kwong is calling on the provincial government to reach a peaceful and immediate settlement over the issue. He has also written to Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
The intervention is significant because the Most Rev Paul Kwong, Archbishop of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui and Bishop of Hong Kong Island, is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and is regarded as an ally of Beijing, in particular its government in Hong Kong.
The issue was published yesterday but is not currently online on the diocesan website.
His comments were reported by the independent Asian Catholic news service UCA News.
Anglicans in Hong Kong welcomed the move but called for more.
Ng Ka-ho, a convener of a Facebook group for Hong Kong Anglicans in support of social justice, said: "Can our Church be more proactive aside from expressing itself on written news? We should not stay silent and let outsiders misunderstand that we depend on a regime that demolishes the Church."