MELBOURNE (Oct. 28)
Representatives of international Jewish organizations have met officially in Beijing for the first time with two Chinese government agency officials to discuss prospects for establishing further contact.
The president of the Asia Pacific Jewish Association (APJA) and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Isi Leibler, held talks with officials of the Bureau of Religious Affairs and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship.
Leibler, a member of the Executive of the World Jewish Congress, was accompanied by Sam Lipski, vice president of the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs and an executive member of the APJA. (Lipski is also the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s correspondent in Australia.)
At the Bureau of Religious Affairs, which has administrative responsibility for all religions in China, they met Zaho Kuaung-Wei, head of the Bureau’s research office, and Wang Yi-Bin, head of the Islamic Office. At the Friendship Association, discussions were held with Yao Ren-Lui, the deputy director of American and Oceanian Affairs.
In addition to officials from the agency dealing directly with religious affairs and international relations, the Jewish representatives met informally with a wide cross-section of officials from various government departments, as well as editors, writers, academics and publishers.
Leibler said the Chinese officials had been friendly, and those at the Friendship Association had promised to consider proposals for establishing a basis for arranging some form of contact with world Jewish organizations.
SIGNIFICANT AND PRECEDENT-SETTING MEETING
It was significant and precedent-setting, Leibler said, that the Chinese agencies had been willing to meet at all and to accept the formal greetings extended on behalf of the World Jewish Congress, the Asia Pacific Jewish Association and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
“At the same time, the Chinese remained wary and skeptical. We did not expect any breakthroughs on this issue, and there were none. But we have been invited to return to China for future discussions and we believe some doors were opened, however slightly,” Leibler said.
Leibler said he had asked for an “address” to which bodies such as the WJC and APJA could direct their enquiries.” He had also asked whether it would be possible to convene a conference in Beijing, bringing together Chinese and Jewish scholars to explore subjects of mutual interest, such as Chinese and Jewish philosophy, wisdom literature, and the history of the Jews of Kaifeng, the community of indigenous Chinese Jewry which had flourished for many centuries.
Leibler said they agreed to consider these requests. He added that while it was clear the Chinese were bound to be sensitive to any approach from international Jewish organizations so long as there were no diplomatic relations between China and Israel, there had been a noticeable improvement in their willingness to listen to suggestions of contact on a cultural, non-political level.
Compared to an earlier visit in 1981, when he had raised similar issues but only at a non-government level, the climate had changed towards much greater openness, Leibler said. “This, of course, reflects the noticeable expansion of China’s open door policies in other areas,” he said.