The Vatican has long hoped to establish diplomatic relations with China, but that “could still be a long way off,” because dialogue between the two sides — let alone negotiations — has yet to develop, former ambassador to the Holy See Tou Chou-seng (杜筑生) said yesterday.
Having served as the nation’s ambassador to the Vatican, the only European state to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, between 2003 and 2008, Tou recently published a book The International Status of the Holy See and its Relations with China (教廷的國際地位兼論教廷與中國的關係).
At a book launch, Tou spoke about the evolution of the Vatican’s China policy and possible future of relations between the Holy See, Taiwan and China, questions he said he was often asked about.
The incident last month, in which China stripped Ma Daqin (馬達欽), the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, of his title has brought relations between China and the Vatican to a new low, Tou said.
Ma’s ordination, with the approval of China and the Vatican, had been seen as a hopeful sign that both sides could live with the disagreement over the appointment of Chinese bishops, but that hope was dashed after Ma was placed under house arrest for publicly renouncing the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), Tou said.
The CCPA is China’s state-run organization that controls the state-backed Catholic Church and officially represents Chinese Catholics.
China runs the country’s Catholic church independently of the Vatican, and if the situation remains unchanged, its aim of establishing ties with the papal state is “a quixotic goal,” he said.
The Vatican has long held a “one China” policy, except during a period when Pope Paul VI served as pope and advocated a “two China” policy in 1964 that would see the UN recognize the People’s Republic of China without dropping the Republic of China, Tou said.
When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was re-elected in 2004, he had wished that the nation’s diplomatic allies could add “Taiwan” to the names of their embassy in Taipei, Tou said.
“Although the Holy See did not oppose the idea, it has never changed the name of its embassy in Taipei. It is still called the ‘Apostolic Nunciature in China,’ while Holy See secretariat of state has addressed the nation’s embassy in Vatican as the ‘Embassy of China to the Holy See’ in correspondence,” Tou said.
Tou said that he had, on various occasions, inquired with the Vatican about the possibility of it switching recognition from Taipei to Beijing, following hints by Vatican officials.
“The answer I received was always the same: That could only happen when most people in China enjoy freedom of religious beliefs,” he said.
That does not mean that the Vatican would never establish diplomatic ties with China, but the time has not yet come, he said.
In his book, Tou said that the Vatican has repeatedly promised Taiwan that the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, informally known as the Bishops’ Conference of Taiwan, and the nation’s embassy in the Vatican will be informed of any major decision it makes on cross-strait relations.
It will not make a decision that would catch Taiwan unprepared, he said.