China yesterday reacted cautiously to the Vatican's call for dialogue, insisting that the Holy See must sever ties with Taiwan in order to forge diplomatic relations with Beijing.
In a special meeting concerning its relations with China, the Vatican called on Saturday for "respectful and constructive dialogue" with Beijing and expressed hopes for the normalization of ties.
"At this moment I cannot comment on this special meeting because we have only seen the news reports," said Liu Bainian (
Liu said that his association -- the state-run administrator of China's Catholic Church -- still hopes that formal ties between the Vatican and Beijing can be established "as soon as possible."
But he reiterated his government's demands that the Holy See first cut ties with Taiwan.
"The Chinese government has two conditions on establishing relations with the Vatican," Liu said. "The first is that the Vatican must sever all relations with Taiwan and the second is that the Vatican must commit to not interfere in China's internal affairs."
Following the two-day review of its China policy, the Holy See said it wished to "overcome misunderstandings of the past" with Beijing, which ended relations with the Vatican more than 50 years ago.
It was not immediately clear to what extent the meeting addressed the Vatican's relationship with Taiwan.
But the Holy See said in a statement it wanted to normalize relations with China at "different levels" in order to benefit the Church and work together "for the good of the Chinese people and for peace in the world."
"It's a positive signal" to China that will help "improve the climate of mutual understanding," said Italian sinologist Agostino Giovagnoli, speaking to the ANSA news agency.
"I'm sure Beijing will appreciate the moderation with which Rome acted," he said.
China's foreign ministry was not immediately available yesterday for comment.
China's state-sanctioned church has about 4 million worshippers, official figures show, and does not allow the country's Catholics to recognize papal authority.
The Vatican estimates that an illegal, or underground, church has around 10 million followers.
During China's more than 25 years of economic reform and opening to the outside world, the numbers of Chinese Christian believers, both Protestants and Catholics, have grown rapidly, but largely in "underground churches" that are not recognized by the state.
Diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican were severed in 1951, two years after Beijing's officially atheist communist government took power.
China refuses to enter into diplomatic relations with any country that maintains official ties with Taiwan.
Tensions have been simmering between Beijing and the Vatican since Chinese state authorities last year went ahead with the ordination of four bishops who did not have papal approval.
Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman David Wang (
Wang said that the meeting between Vatican and Beijing officials on Saturday had focused on issues such as China's lack of religious freedom. Both Cardinal Paul Shan (單國璽), the bishop of Taiwan and Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君), the bishop of Hong Kong, attended the meeting, Wang added.
"It would be difficult for Beijing to develop ties with the Vatican if China does not improve its attitude toward religious freedom," Wang said.
Wang added that Taiwan respected the need for the meeting.
"But so far we have not seen any sign of an end to ties between the Vatican and Taiwan," he said.
Additional reporting by Jewel Huang
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