Communist Party leaders yesterday ended a two-day conference on religion with a call to party cadres to stand firm on their atheist principles and stop foreign infiltration under the banner of spiritual faith. 'Under the current international and domestic conditions, we can only strengthen - not weaken - the Communist Party's leadership and the Government's control over religions,' President Jiang Zemin was quoted by Xinhua as saying at the opening of the conference. It was the first national conference on religion called by party leaders since the September 11 terrorist attacks. National leaders have repeatedly stressed that China also faces an increasing threat from terrorism and have condemned Muslim radicals in Xinjiang for using violence in their campaign for an independent state of East Turkestan. The importance of the Beijing conference was highlighted by the presence of top party leaders. According to Xinhua, Mr Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji addressed the gathering. The other five members of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee also attended. The committee is the power centre of the leadership. Party leaders have organised similar conferences on religion but they were usually chaired by Li Ruihuan, the party's top official in charge of religious affairs. The latest conference did not release specific new rules and regulations on religion, but in the long opening address he delivered on Tuesday, Mr Jiang spelled out what he expected from the party rank and file. According to Xinhua, Mr Jiang stressed how religions were shaping world politics and told the cadres to tread carefully in dealing with the issue. He reminded them that while Communist Party members must stand firm on their atheist principles, they also must realise that religions would continue to exist in China for many more decades to come. 'We must recognise the fact that religions will exist under socialism for a long time,' Mr Jiang said. 'We must not use administrative means to destroy religions but at the same time cannot use administrative power to develop them.' The party still bans members from believing in any religion, although it is common knowledge that many members secretly worship at home. 'Asking religions to adapt to socialism doesn't mean we want the religious workers and believers to give up their faith,' Mr Jiang said. 'Instead, we ask them to embrace our socialist system, the leadership of the Communist Party, follow the country's rules and regulations . . . and contribute to ethnic and national unity.' In an apparent reference to the rise of radical religious groups overseas, Mr Jiang said China would resolutely 'not tolerate any attempts to jeopardise national and ethnic unity' under the pretext of religion. The closing address was given by Mr Zhu, who reinforced a message that cadres must discern between legitimate religions and cults. The Premier said cadres at the grassroots level in rural areas must learn to better manage religious affairs and improve their understanding of religions. China branded the Falun Gong spiritual movement an 'evil cult' two years ago, claiming the movement was responsible for the death of more than 1,700 followers.