Britain's archbishop of Canterbury to visit China

Beijing, China - The archbishop of Canterbury plans to visit China in October, a Chinese religious affairs official said Wednesday.

'The leader of the Anglicans worldwide will visit China in October,' an official from the state-run China Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which oversees all Protestant churches, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The visit would be Archbishop Rowan Williams' first trip to China since he was enthroned as head of the Church of England in February 2003, and the exact schedule has yet to be fixed, the official said.

'Because China's Protestant church and the Anglican church have kept good relations, his predecessors all visited China,' the official said.

China officially has about 16 million Christians, but activists claim the true figure is closer to 40 million.

The government has no official relations with the Vatican, which recognizes Taiwan, and accuses it of interfering in the state management of Catholic churches.

All religious organizations must register with government supervisory bodies, but many Christian groups refuse to do so, claiming their religious freedom is too restricted within China's official churches.

Police and officials forcibly disband illegal Christian and other religious groups. Their leaders face criminal charges, and buildings used for underground religious activity are often demolished.