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Worries over Vatican-Taipei relations may be huff and puff

TAIPEI (UCAN): Philip Chen Chien-jen, a vice presidential candidate in the upcoming elections in Taiwan, is urging Church people to be patient over speculation that China may ask the Vatican to cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

However, a report published by an online news organisation, Storm, suggests that Chen’s Democratic Progress Party has already made a worst case scenario evaluation based on the possibility that the Vatican nunciature may be shifted from Taipei to Beijing as early as February next year, even though relations may not be cut completely.

Chen emerged as the vice presidential candidate for his party, which is running tops in opinion polls, as the likely winner of the January 16 presidential elections on November 16.

His running mate for president, Tsai Ing-wen, is known to favour a more independent stance on China, which has prompted some observers in Taiwan to wonder how an election victory by Tsai and Chen would impact on the island’s diplomatic relations with the Vatican, its only toehold in Europe.

“The relations between China and the Vatican are quite complicated... It needs some more discussion before anything can be settled,” the Catholic candidate, Chen, said on November 18 when asked about the possibility of the Vatican severing ties with Taiwan.

He quoted a Vatican foreign affairs official as telling him during a visit to Rome, “Chinese people have a virtue and that is patience. You have patience. The Vatican also has patience.”

Taiwan finds itself stuck in the middle of Vatican and Chinese attempts to establish diplomatic ties. In 1999, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, the then-Vatican secretary of state, told the media that the Vatican is ready to move its nunciature from Taipei to Beijing overnight, if an accord with Beijing is struck.

Severing ties with Taiwan has been a criterion that China demands of the Vatican. Though rarely mentioned in recent years, it is often seen as one way that China can further isolate Taiwan internationally.

“China-Vatican relations involve not only one party. The Holy See may not have the intention to harm Taiwan, but it is hard to say on China’s side,” Bernard Li, the founder of Fu Jen Academia Catholica at Fu Jen Catholic University, commented.

The Order of Brilliant Star was conferred by the Taiwanese government on Li for facilitating relations between Taiwan and the Vatican.

Across the strait, however, a Church observer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the expectation that China will press the Vatican to sever ties with Taiwan if Tsai comes to power is a misreading of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

“If Xi considers people across the strait as brothers, how would he use Vatican relations as a means to constrain Taiwan on the international stage?” the observer said, noting that China does not need to play such a card.

During his historic meeting with the president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, in Singapore on November 7, Xi said, “We are brothers, connected by flesh even if our bones are broken.”

The observer added that over the years, “Taiwan has never been a major issue in China-Vatican talks and thus would not be a major obstacle to it.”


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