Improving relations between Taiwan and the Sovereign Military Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta point to the possibility of formal diplomatic ties in the future, Forbes magazine reported on Monday.
Founded in 1048 and headquartered in Rome, the Order of Malta has sovereignty under international law and has permanent observer status at the UN. It maintains a military with three brigades that communicate through the Italian Armed Forces, as well as a permanent membership of 13,500 knights, 25,000 medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers worldwide. Its official language is Italian, but French is also widely used.
Forbes said that while a diplomatic relationship is not guaranteed, it might be possible and it would be a “symbolic win” for Taiwan.
“Based on this collaboration, we are confident we can develop and deepen relations with the Republic of China,” order communications director Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate was quoted as saying.
Responding to questions about the article, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs likened Taiwan’s relationship with the Order to that of its diplomatic relationship the Vatican, adding that there are plans to cooperate with the order on humanitarian issues.
The ministry said that as a sovereign Catholic entity the order has the promotion of benevolence and humanitarianism among its highest aims. The order has devoted itself to providing those in need with medical treatment, social care and humanitarian aid, and has a positive reputation in the international community.
Taiwan has always made humanitarian issues a concern and worked with the order to provide other nations with humanitarian aid, medical assistance and cooperation on sustainable development, the ministry said, adding that the order is a valuable ally in the promotion of religious freedom, democracy, human rights, peace and humanity and delivering aid worldwide.
The order provides aid to 120 nations worldwide, the ministry said, adding that Taiwan and the order have cooperated on humanitarian programs in Vietnam, Bulgaria, El Salvador and Serbia.
The two have also helped African refugees fleeing to Europe, the ministry said.
Taiwan and the Order of Malta have exchanged high-level visits, including a 2012 visit to Taiwan by then-Order of Malta grand chancellor Jean-Pierre Mazery, who expressed an interest in establishing an economic affairs office in Taiwan, the ministry said.
Former vice president Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) met with Mazery while visiting Taiwan’s representative office in Italy in 2014, the ministry said, adding that then-Order of Malta prince and grand master Matthew Festing visited Taiwan in 2015.
Festing’s visit was the first by a head of the Order of Malta, the ministry said.