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China cool on Vatican enthusiasm

HONG KONG (SE): Although the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, did not actually mention diplomatic ties in a speech he made on August 28 in Pordenone, Italy, on the rosy future a positive outcome from negotiations with China could produce, a response from Yan Kejia, the director of the Institute of Religious Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, seems to presume that was his bottom line.

The Global Times quoted Yan on August 29 as saying that China is not eager to establish formal ties with the Vatican, as it is not an urgent issue.

He then backed off a bit, retreating into the old line about its diplomatic relations with Taiwan, saying, “The Vatican should stop its political relations with Taiwan and focus on religious matters with the island.”

Pushing the barrow even harder, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, suggested that China should lodge a protest with the Vatican over the visit of the vice president of Taiwan, Chen Chien-ren, to the Vatican to attend the canonisation ceremony of Mother Teresa of Kolkata on September 4.

Lu said that all countries should be prudent in dealing with Taiwan-related issues in an article published in Xinhua on August 25.

“The one China policy has a general consensus in the international community,” Lu told a press conference, “and it is also a principle that we adhere to when it comes to Taiwan’s external relations.”

Xinhua insists that the Vatican has been told repeatedly by Beijing that it should recognise the People’s Republic of China as the sole government representing China and Taiwan as an inalienable part of China.

However, expressing a different point of view, Wu Chih-chung, Taiwan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, told The Taipei Times that the primary purpose of the Vatican is not national interest, but to push for religious freedom and promotion of the Catholic faith in every part of the world.

He added that in this regard, Taiwan and the Vatican are in it together, because as diplomatic allies they are connected by the same values and share a consensus on many issues, which include religious freedom, democracy, human rights and humanitarian aid.

Wu added that in this regard, Taiwan encourages Sino-Beijing dialogue, as Taipei believes the Vatican should have communication with all nations.

“This is not a zero-sum game. It does not mean that we have to sever ties, just because it starts talking with others,” Wu said in stressing that this should not be thought about as a black and white issue.

He also stressed that no changes would be made to Chen’s visit to the Vatican and that Taipei’s priority to protect its diplomatic ties with its only European state remains strong.

The ministry issued a statement on August 28 saying, “For many years, high-level government officials from both sides have made frequent visits to each other’s nations. Intensive cooperation has also occurred between Taiwan and the city-state’s pontifical councils and charitable organisations.”

But, an editorial published in The Taipei Times on August 30 was far less diplomatic, saying, “Although China touts itself as a nation of religious freedom, it says one thing and does another. Considering this, will the Vatican establish diplomatic relations on religious activities, including Catholicism, and its interference with the Vatican’s clerical appointments?”

It also quotes extensively from the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report from the State Department of the United States of America, which strongly criticises China for its persecution of Christians, Muslims and the Falun Gong.

The editorial ends with the statement, “Should the Vatican decide to compromise with China on its infringement of human rights and religious freedoms, it would be sending the worst possible message to the world—and that would be a serious mistake.”

In his address at Pordenone, Cardinal Parolin spoke of the internal split that has marred Church life in China since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, saying that there is only one Church in the country with two expressions, both of which are eager to live in communion with the pope.

He couched his comments on the negotiations with China in the context of a reconciliation between the two expressions of Church life, praying that they may dissolve into a new chapter of Church life in the Middle Kingdom.

He described his bottom line in saying, “It is important that Chinese Catholics be able to live their faith in a positive way, whilst also being good citizens and contributing to the reinforcement of harmony throughout Chinese society.”

However, the eternal triangle of China, Taiwan and the Vatican seems destined to remain messy.

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