Thu, May 24, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Pope Francis should protect Taiwan

Seven Catholic bishops from Taiwan were in the Vatican from May 8 to May 14 as part of their first ad limina visit during the pontificate of Pope Francis, whom they met on the final day. It was a religious visit conveying a distinctly political message in tense times.

The bishops presented the pope with gifts, one of which was a painting by Taiwanese artist Shen Chen (沈禎) depicting Jesus Christ blessing a congregation framed in the outline of Taiwan. It is titled Merciful Sun Shines on Taiwan. The message is clear as day.

The reminder of the Vatican’s duty to protect the Catholic community in Taiwan was surely not lost on the pope, nor was it necessary.

The Vatican and Beijing have been negotiating the possible establishment of diplomatic ties. One of Beijing’s conditions for this, under its “one China” principle, is that the Vatican cuts diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a move that would distance the Holy See from the Catholic community in this nation.

Another condition is that Beijing maintains control of the appointment of bishops to the state-backed Catholic Church — as opposed to the “underground church” loyal to the pope — something that the pope is duty-bound not to concede.

Before leaving for the Vatican, the bishops were received by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who asked them to reiterate to the Holy See Taiwan’s position on sovereignty.

They also attended a dinner hosted by Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), a Catholic, to express the government’s support for Catholicism and the importance it attaches to Taiwan-Vatican relations.

During an interview with Radio Free Asia on May 15, Archbishop of Taipei John Hung Shan-chuan (洪山川), one of the contingent, said he passed on the messages to the pope during their meeting.

He said he asked the Pope to do all he could to protect Taiwan, which he said is “like an orphan on the international scene.”

The pope is well-versed in the situation between Taiwan and China, and is well aware of the diplomatic complications. Not wanting to abandon Taiwanese Catholics, but aware of the needs of the “underground” church in totalitarian China, yet unwilling to concede to Beijing the right to appoint bishops there, he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

There are also reasons to believe that switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China would be counterproductive for the Holy See. It would mean a loss of the only bargaining chip, albeit one that has been losing currency with Beijing’s increasing international influence, the Vatican has in negotiations regarding Chinese state control over the church.

Another view is that the Vatican aligning itself with Beijing at this point would only be wise if the Chinese Communist Party were inherently stable and is to govern China in the long term. That, some would say, is debatable.

In terms of the appointment of bishops, the problem stems from having to deal with a totalitarian regime.

As for the exclusive diplomatic relations, the issue is just one aspect of the wider problem that Taiwan faces with Beijing’s insistence on the “one China” principle.

Hung is right. Taiwan is like an orphan on the international scene. As such, it does require extra protection from powerful nations.

Hopefully the question over the appointment of bishops will act as a red line that neither the Vatican nor Beijing will cross, and no agreement will be reached on re-establishing diplomatic ties.

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