Mormon church officials talking with Chinese

Associated Press/August 30, 2010

Salt Lake City - The Mormon church is in talks with the People's Republic of China to improve relations for church members living in mainland China, church officials said in a statement Monday.

The discussions are aimed at ensuring that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says are practicing their faith within the boundaries of Chinese law, the church said. The talks were initiated by a senior Chinese government official, who was not identified by name in the statement.

Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the church's senior leadership circle, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, who both oversee church operations in Asia attended meetings in Beijing in February and May.

A third meeting was held Aug. 24 in Salt Lake City between a Chinese official and the 13 million-member faith's First Presidency.

"No U.S. government official or diplomat has been involved in any way in these discussions," said Mike Otterson, who runs the church's public affairs department. "This is purely between the leadership in Salt Lake City and the leadership in Beijing."

None of the discussions have addressed the possibility of church missionaries proselytizing in China, Otterson said.

"That issue is not even under consideration," Otterson said.

It's unclear how many Mormons are living in mainland China, although the church has had a presence in both Hong Kong and Taiwan for decades.

Otterson said talks with the Chinese reflect the development of a relationship over 30 years.

"The church deeply appreciates the courtesy of the Chinese leadership in opening up a way to better define how the church and its members can proceed with daily activities, all in harmony with Chinese law," Otterson said.

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