Chinese leader meets Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury

Beijing, China - Religion has an important role to play in China's new policy of "building a harmonious society", a senior Chinese official told Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Thursday. "China has engaged itself in building a harmonious society, during which religion can play an important role," state media quoted Jia Qingling, who is ranked fourth in the official hierarchy of China's ruling Communist Party, as telling Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Jia said the party had carried out its policy of religious freedom "soundly since China adopted the reform and opening-up policy in 1978," the official Xinhua news agency said.

He said successive archbishops of Canterbury had "played a positive role in promoting friendship" between British and Chinese people.

State television said Jia and Williams discussed issues including North Korea but gave no details of their talks.

The leader of Anglicans worldwide is making his first trip to China since he was enthroned as head of the Church of England in February 2003.

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.