German President Gauck ends China tour with religious visits ahead of Easter weekend | News | DW | 24.03.2016
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German President Gauck ends China tour with religious visits ahead of Easter weekend

The final day of German President Joachim Gauck's five-day tour of China has been largely filled by religious events. The president has sought to strengthen ties during his visit, whilst also addressing human rights.

Following a visit to the excavations of the famous Terracotta Army early on Thursday, German President Joachim Gauck met the Catholic Bishop of Xi'an, Anthony Dang at the imperial city's Francis of Assisi Cathedral.

Dang's role in the Church broadly reflects the balancing act of Catholics in China. Like other bishops, Dang was ordained by China's official "Patriotic Church," but is also recognized as a bishop by the Vatican.

Restricted religious freedoms

China's state-controlled Church does not recognize the Pope's authority, however, and appoints its own bishops, leading to tensions between the two Christian followings.

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Gauck arrives in China

Religious freedoms are also strictly curtailed in China, with Communist leaders working to keep faith communities under control and prevent foreign influence.

Christianity continues to attract a strong following, however. During his visit, Gauck was accompanied by representatives from both the Catholic and Protestant Church in Germany. On Wednesday evening, the former Lutheran Pastor attended an evangelical Easter service. A visit to the Great Mosque of Xi'an was also scheduled for Thursday.

Criticism of Communism

Gauck's five-day China visit was considered one of the most important trips of his four-year presidency so far. Whilst striving to maintain relations with China - which is an important partner in trade and international conflicts - Gauck, a civil rights activist in former communist East Germany also went to China with the intention of remaining true to his convictions.

The German President on Wednesday hit out at Communist rule in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, telling students that people could not be happy under a "dictatorship."

Pressure from Berlin

Gauck also expressed concern about development within Chinese civil society, without giving specific examples.

"Vibrant and active civil society always means an innovative and flexible society," he said.

Prior to his trip, the 76-year-old was urged domestically to pressure Beijing over human rights and freedom of speech. He told reporters that, during his visit, he also raised the situation of former DW journalist Gao Yu. The 71-year-old was convicted of leaking state secrets in 2015 and later freed. She has been prevented from traveling to Germany, however, where she is seeking medical treatment.

Gauck was due to return to Berlin later on Thursday.

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