The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday it has established a relationship with the People's Republic of China. The Church expects it will now lead to what it calls "regularized" operations for the church in the most populous nation in the world.
It seems this is a significant milestone in the Church's efforts with the Chinese government, which have been ongoing for more than 30 years.
While the Church makes it clear its agreement with Chinese leaders does not mean LDS missionaries will go to China, it appears there will now be fewer restrictions for members of the Church who live in China as they practice their faith.
At a meeting held Aug. 24 at LDS Church headquarters, the First Presidency met with a senior official of the People's Republic of China. Together they established a relationship, which the Church expects will lead to "regularizing the activities of the Church in China."
"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," LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson said Monday.
Both sides agreed to publicly acknowledge the meeting. LDS members with connections to China believe the announcement is a major breakthrough for the LDS Church.
"It's really exciting to me," Church member Justin Alder said. "I think it's a big step forward."
Alder worked in China last summer and attended LDS meetings in Shanghai with about 100 other Latter-day Saints. Chinese citizens who became members the Church while living outside of China were required meet separately from foreign Church members.
"[We] couldn't go to church with them, but there is a few there. Most of them [were] baptized out of China -- whether it was California, Toronto or New York," Alder said.
Some believe this agreement could mean members will soon be able meet together and the Church could own property instead of holding meetings in hotels or offices.
Church members with roots in China say LDS Church standards are similar to traditional Chinese values and believe the Church has respected regulations put into place by the Chinese government, thus establishing a level of trust.
"They have become thoroughly familiar with us through numerous contacts, and they have seen how we and our members operate in China. They know that we are people of our word when it comes to respecting Chinese law and cultural expectations," Otterson said.
"Based on the past 30 years, the Church has accomplished a great deal because of these ongoing efforts and also the good example of the saints over in China," said Church member Simeon Ning.
KSL News did ask if former the Utah governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, was involved in the discussions. Church officials insist he had no role and say that no U.S. diplomats were involved. They say it is the result of direct communication between the Chinese government and Church leaders.