Beijing has removed an article from prominent mainland websites that is deeply critical of the US-led war in Iraq and written by the mainland's religious affairs chief, an overseas religion watchdog said yesterday.
According to US-based rights group China Aid Association, the government has taken the article off state-backed websites - including the People's Daily, Xinhua and Phoenix.com - fearing it could be misunderstood by the US.
The People's Daily commentary, written by State Bureau of Religious Affairs director Ye Xiaowen on February 1 and titled 'Bush should reflect deeply', urged the US administration to perform a 'comprehensive self-examination' over the war.
Mr Ye said US President George W. Bush had lost support domestically and internationally, as reflected in a series of anti-war protests in Washington and other countries. He said Mr Bush should scrap his unilateral approach and respect religious diversity in his 'war on terror' to resolve the problems of Iraq.
Mr Ye also criticised terms such as 'crusade' and 'Islamic fascism' that Mr Bush had used in relation to the war in Iraq.
'How can you link anti-terrorism with a particular religion?' Mr Ye asked.
He said Washington believed it could use Christian civilisation to reform Islam, but elections and the downfall of Saddam Hussein had transformed Iraq into a 'meat grinder' that had engulfed innocent lives rather than create a haven for democracy.
'Unilateralism and terrorism breed each other, but neither can overcome the other. Terrorism cheats people under the guise of religion. Why should unilateralism hijack religion as well?' he asked.
US-based China Aid Association said a Beijing source had said it was unprecedented for Mr Ye to openly criticise a foreign president in an article in the state mouthpiece, adding Beijing believed Mr Ye had overstepped his power.
Although Mr Ye's article was scrapped from state-backed websites, as well as other official media, internet users could still read the article on non-official news websites and personal blogs.
'Ye's article has also invited speculation as to whether his view represented Beijing,' the association said. 'In order to 'put out the fire', the central government has already erased the article from all official websites.'