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Fathers’ Day plea to pope for Taiwan

HONG KONG (SE): A letter addressed to Pope Francis from the president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Peter Chen, a United States of America (US)-based group for the promotion of freedom, human rights and democracy in Taiwan, is appealing for the Vatican to consider the welfare of the island-state in its diplomatic negotiations with Beijing.

The letter notes that on August 5, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Taipei stated, “It was closely observing developments indicating that the Vatican might be moving closer to establishing diplomatic relations with China” and Chen fears this could mean the severing of ties with Taipei.

“As you are well aware, for the past decades China’s Communist government has forced nations around the world to choose between maintaining diplomatic relations with either Taipei or Beijing,” Chen notes in his letter to the pontiff in the Vatican.

“Even though I fully understand the importance of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing, I respectfully ask that you pledge… that your initiative will be based on the principle of not hurting diplomatic relations with Taiwan.”

Diplomatically, Taipei’s relations with the Vatican are important, as it is the only sovereign state in Europe with which it still maintains a full ambassadorial relationship.

Most of its close allies are poor nations in the Pacific, like Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and the Solomon Islands; or struggling countries like Nicaragua, Haiti or Panama in the Americas; or Burkina Faso in Africa.

Chen tells Pope Francis, “Specifically, I would like to propose that you consider moving towards Dual Recognition of both governments in Beijing and Taipei. Such dual diplomatic recognition would entail not abandoning the 23 million people of Taiwan and the believers in Taiwan of the Catholic faith, and would be a way to foster and encourage peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between Taiwan and China.”

He adds that he believes that it would also serve as a precedent for other countries to emulate.

Then drawing the attention of the pope to the August 8 date on his letter, when Fathers’ Day is celebrated in Taiwan, he paraphrases the gospel of St. Luke as saying, “A good shepherd never loses even one sheep…” (15:4), reminding Pope Francis that he is a father to both those who believe in and belong to the Church both in Taiwan and mainland China.

Chen admits that his fears have been prompted by a lengthy statement released by the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, published in the Sunday Examiner in English and the Kung Kao Po in Chinese on August 7, where he said that the Vatican and China may have reached a preliminary agreement on the appointment of bishops.

(… the Catholic Church has gradually gained the reconsideration of the Chinese government, which is now willing to reach an understanding with the Holy See on the question of the appointment of bishops in the Catholic Church in China and seek a mutually acceptable plan [actual text]).

But while the possibility of the Vatican and Beijing reaching some agreement on the appointment of bishops has been mooted for some time, no one has yet had the temerity to put a time line on what aspects of the process could be tied up by what date, leaving the impression that anything hard and fast could still be a long way off for a Church that moves in centuries and a state that progresses in five-year bursts.

While Cardinal Tong did not suggest that diplomatic relations are on the cards, or even comment on their desirability, the mere suggestion of some agreement being reached has been sufficient to put the wind up a far off diehard Taiwan supporter.

Chen points out to Pope Francis that since he has already played a critical role in initiating the establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba, it makes a lot of sense that he take the lead in recognising that Taiwan and China are two countries on either side of the Taiwan Strait that the international community wants to see develop into friendly neighbours.

Chen concludes by appealing to the pope to use his own leadership and that of the Vatican diplomatic service, which he points out has already made a positive impact on the world, to break the stalemate of the Cold War rhetoric between Taipei and Beijing.

In thanking Pope Francis for his consideration, Chen concludes by saying, “This would genuinely enhance peace and security, and promote the value of respect and human dignity, life and rights.”

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