Wed, Mar 20, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Lu meets with Vatican foreign minister

DIPLOMACY Despite worries that the Vatican may switch ties to Beijing, the foreign ministry yesterday insisted that relations with the Holy See remain `firm'


Amid protests from China, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) yesterday visited Taiwan's only European ally, the Vatican, and met with the Holy See's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, sources said yesterday.

It was the first high-level meeting between Taipei and the Holy See since the Pope in October expressed the Holy See's wishes to establish dialogue channels between the Vatican and China -- a remark that has sparked speculation that ties between Beijing and the Holy See will be normalized.

According to a press release issued by Taiwan's embassy in the Vatican, Lu and her entourage reached Rome yesterday morning before heading for the Vatican for a formal visit.

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states, as well as Celestino Migliore, under-secretary for relations with states, welcomed the Taiwanese delegation, according to the press release. "Vice President Lu expressed her appreciation to Tauran for taking time out to welcome her and her entourage on a holiday," the statement said.

Yesterday was St. Joseph's Day, a religious holiday for the Holy See, during which Pope John Paul II and other high-ranking Vatican officials host solemn celebrations and normally do not receive guests as a rule, sources said.

Lu and Tauran discussed mat-ters of mutual interest between the Vatican and Taiwan, and agreed to strengthen cooperation for the realization of ideals shared by both sides, such as the protection of human rights and freedom of religion, the statement said.

Aside from meeting Tauran at his official residence, Lu and the delegation also visited St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope's gardens and other religious sites yesterday, accompanied by Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican, Raymond Tai (戴瑞明), the briefing said.

European trip

* Though it was a holiday in the Vatican, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran found time to meet with Vice President Annette Lu at his official residence.

* Lu will also travel to Hungary to attend the 51st Congress of the group Liberal International.

* China's embassy in Rome has lodged protests with the Italian government for issuing a visa to Lu.

Taiwan's foreign ministry has stressed that ties between Taiwan and the Vatican remain "firm," adding that Beijing and the Vatican have been poles apart on the issue of religious freedom -- an apparent impediment to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two sides.

Lu's predecessor Lien Chan (連戰) met with the Pope for a 35-minute talk in January 1997 in his capacity as special envoy of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Former foreign minister Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) also visited the Holy See in June 2000, soon after the inauguration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Lu and the delegation stayed in Italy last night before heading to Budapest, Hungary, for the 51st Congress of the Liberal International, a loose network of liberal parties from 67 countries, slated to be held from tomorrow through Saturday.

China yesterday accused Lu of attempting to "split China" and escalating cross-strait tensions by visiting Italy and Hungary.

China's embassy in Rome has lodged protests with the Italian government for issuing a visa to Lu, sources said.

Lu's trip to Hungary for the meeting is the first time in 30 years that a Taiwanese vice president has officially led a delegation to Europe for an international conference, sources said.

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