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Ma and Xi meet could spell collapse for Taipei diplomacy

TAIPEI (UCAN): A historic meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan—the first since Mao Zedong and Chiang Kia-shek faced off towards the end of the civil war in 1949—has triggered concern among Catholics that Taiwan’s upcoming election, set to return a more independent-minded party to power, could see Beijing ask the Vatican to cut its ties with the island nation as part of a broader deal.

Many Catholics in Taiwan believe the November 7 meeting, held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore, represents a diplomatic card to play ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election in January.

If Taiwan’s new president is indeed the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, then this could impact on the future of relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

The closed-door meeting between the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the current Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been widely criticised in Taiwan. 

It comes after a closed-door meeting between China and a Vatican delegation in Beijing in October, which drew attention from Catholics across the Taiwan Strait.

“Local officials said there is a higher chance that China will build ties with the Vatican once Tsai Ing-wen wins the election,” an priest from the unofficial Church community in Fujian province, who declined to reveal his name, said.

Severing ties with Taiwan is a criterion that China demands of the Vatican, the only European state that still maintains diplomatic relations with the island.

In 1999, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, then-Vatican secretary of state, told the press that the Vatican is ready to move the nunciature from Taipei to Beijing overnight, if an accord is reached with Beijing.

However, among university students little interest was expressed in the meeting either way.

In Taiwan, Ku Wei-ying, a professor on contemporary Chinese history, explained, “Xi and Ma will not talk about Vatican relations, but the meeting would be beneficial in reinforcing Taiwan-Vatican relations.”

Ku added that Ma is likely to project an image that Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party has a better relationship with China, as evidenced by the meeting, and that a change in government could be unfavourable to diplomatic relations.

“If ties with the Vatican are severed, Taiwan’s diplomacy will collapse. So this will put pressure on Tsai on how to maintain the status quo in the diplomatic arena,” Ku said.

But Beijing will first observe Tsai if she takes office.

James Liao, a Church worker in Taichung, also believes the meeting is meant to convey a message to voters that China cooperates better with a party which favours unification, but thinks the Vatican card will have little effect as most Taiwanese think relations with the Vatican are only a religious thing.

 

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