The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday flatly denied media allegation that a former Vatican official's visit to Taiwan on Monday is a signal that its only European ally intends to switch diplomatic recognition to China.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a former Vatican foreign minister will arrive in Taiwan on Monday for a six-day visit, during which he will meet President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to receive a medal, deputy foreign ministry spokesman, David Wang (王建業), said yesterday.
Wang dismissed media speculation that Tauran's visit is a precursor of the Holy See's intention to sever ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
"Do not be misled by the media reports, which are entirely speculation. The cardinal is visiting Taiwan at our invitation, and it was arranged long ago," Wang said.
The ministry official in charge of European affairs yesterday said the invitation was delivered as early as January this year as "a routine mutual visit" between the two diplomatic allies.
Some observers believe that Tauran's visit "could be part of the final negotiations between the two sides before the Holy See severs ties with Taipei to rebuild relations with Beijing," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said yesterday.
Tauran is well experienced in China affairs, the report said.
Wang said Tauran is making a friendly call to Taiwan and it is therefore logical that he won't be making any adverse comments about Taiwan.
"He wouldn't be coming to Taiwan if he was going to say anything bad about us," Wang said.
Since the accession of Pope Benedict XVI last April, senior Vatican officials have hinted that improving relations with China is a priority, causing fears in Taiwan that a break in ties is imminent. Taiwan currently has official ties with only 25 countries.
Wang also didn't rule out the possibility that Taiwanese officials and the envoy would discuss the progress of contacts between the Vatican and China.
"The agenda is open, and no issues have been prearranged for discussion," Wang said.
Tauran will visit the ministry and several Roman Catholic universities in Taiwan, Wang said.
In addition to meeting the president next Friday, Cardinal Tauran is scheduled to give a speech entitled "Is the Holy See a Political Power?" at Taipei's Fu-jen Catholic University on Tuesday and another speech on the Holy See's diplomacy at Provident University, where he will also be awarded an honorary doctorate degree on Wednesday.
The cardinal currently serves as the archivist of the Vatican's secret records.
Taiwanese officials insist that the Vatican is unlikely to diplomatically recognize Beijing as long as mainland China does not acknowledge the pope's authority over its churches.
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