Mon, Apr 18, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Unique relations with the Holy See

By Jerome Keating

The Holy See, whose territorial residence is the Vatican, is the only European sovereign entity with diplomatic ties to the Republic of China (ROC). These relations have been ongoing since 1942.

However, recent rumors and events have questioned the stability of those ties, even in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From the Vatican side, there have been offhand remarks by Pope Francis that he would like to visit China. On Taiwan’s side, the recent Gambia gambit and Kenya fiasco have exposed President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “flexible diplomacy” (彈性外交) to be a limp noodle. In addition, the illusory so-called “1992 consensus” with “different interpretations” is proving to be one consensus and one interpretation, namely that of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Does the Holy See plan to break ties with Taiwan and re-establish relations with the PRC leaving Taiwan with no European ally? Things are not as simple, or cut and dry, as they seem.

Ironically in all this complexity, the ministry has a lot of control, but it needs to up its game and have a better long-term game plan. It and Taiwanese should first realize what they do have, what they do not have, and what the KMT has pretended to have. You cannot lose what you do not have, but no one can take away what you do have.

The Holy See and relations with it are unlike those with other sovereign states, which are often influenced by dollar diplomacy and trade considerations. The Holy See currently has relations with about 180 states, large and small, and over 80 states have embassies in the Vatican. In its mission to the world, the Holy See even has a nunciature (the equivalent of an embassy) in Rabat, Malta, and Malta has an embassy in Rome, although Malta’s population is less than 430,000.

With regards to Taiwan, most people are not aware that the Holy See did not recognize Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) when they fled to Taiwan in 1949. The Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio to China remained in China. He was eventually “kicked out” in 1951 on trumped up charges of plots against the state. After that, the Holy See’s ambassador took up residency in Taiwan.

A second telltale and related factor is that in 1971, when the ROC lost its seat at the UN, the position of the Vatican’s representative in Taiwan was downgraded from ambassador to charge d’affaires. It has remained so since then.

Monsignor Paul Russell, who for the past eight years has served as the charge d’affaires in Taiwan, is leaving and is to be elevated to the position of Archbishop in his new assignment to Turkey. In Vatican diplomatic speak, this means he will be taking on resident ambassador status there. His replacement in Taiwan, a monsignor, will of course maintain charge d’affaires status.

The “one China” issue will always come up, since the PRC tries to place a zero sum, “only us” insistence on this. Examine how other states have finessed this. The most common way has been to change their embassies in Taiwan into trade or cultural affairs offices.

Unlike the Vatican, the US kept its ambassador in Taiwan in 1971. When it moved its ambassador to Beijing at the start of 1979, the US created the American Institute in Taiwan, which performs most of the functions of an embassy, but is not called such. This was followed by the creation of the Taiwan (not the ROC) Relations Act. The Taiwan (again not ROC) Caucus, with a growing 205 members in the US House of Representatives, recently celebrated the anniversary of that act. The official US position on Taiwan of course remains “undecided,” even after 70 years.

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