A Chinese bishop of the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association said this week that loyal citizenship must take precedence over Christian faith.

According to Bishop Peter Fang Jianping of Tangshan, Catholics should pledge their allegiance to President Xi Jinping “because we, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”

Breitbart reported that “Fang, who was ordained a bishop in China without Vatican approval in 2000 and later legitimized by the Holy See, is a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament that on March 11 voted to eliminate presidential term limits.”

Fang expressed optimism regarding an historic agreement between the Chinese government and the Holy See, contending that if Rome legitimizes mainland bishops, relations between China and the Vatican will improve and the Catholic church can further develop in the country.

President Xi has declared that all religions active in China must be “Sinicized,” or rendered compatible with the beliefs and programs of Communist Chinese culture and purged of influence from the West.

According to Breitbart, “The new deal being brokered between the Holy See and China’s Communist leadership would reestablish diplomatic ties, which were severed by Beijing in 1951. Not long afterward, China established its Catholic Patriotic Association as a government-controlled parallel church with no allegiance to Rome.”

Provisions of the deal include the legitimization by Pope Francis of seven excommunicated bishops in China who were ordained without the approval of the Holy See. The deal would also reportedly allow the Chinese government an unspecified role in naming Catholic bishops in the country.

China is said to be the home of approximately 12 million Catholics, divided nearly in half between the Catholic Patriotic Association and the illegal “underground Church” comprised of those faithful to Rome.

Strict new regulations drafted by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs went into effect Feb. 1, intended to “annihilate underground communities” and “suffocate official communities,” according to one report. The regulations also include the imposition of hefty fines for people caught associating with underground religious communities not authorized by the state, which have no legal standing in China.

As part of an effort to separate youth from Christian education and practice, the regulations also prohibit anyone under 18 years of age from entering a church building.

All religion has been deemed a security threat by the Chinese government. Christianity is a primary concern since it has surged in popularity in China to the point that Christians reportedly outnumber Communist Party members in the country.

Although the People’s Republic of China has claimed since 1978 to recognize religious freedom, the U.S. State Department and other watchdog groups view China as a perpetrator of systemic religious oppression. Communist party members are prohibited from belonging to or practicing any religion.

Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the United Front Work Department, wrote in 2011, “Party members shall not believe in religion, which is a principle to be unswervingly adhered to.”

In February, Chinese authorities sent more than 100 Christians to “re-education camps” to learn loyalty to Communism.

According to Breitbart, “A year ago, Pope Francis publicly defended China’s practice of religious liberty, in what many observers described as an effort at appeasement in a bid to establish formal diplomatic ties with the country.”

In another report published in February, it was noted that China has ordered all Christian pastors and priests to post notices on their churches that minors are forbidden. Chinese authorities reportedly stated that church attendance and religious instruction keeps young persons from developing “a correct worldview and set of values.”

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