President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told Pope Francis that war with China was “not an option,” reaffirming her desire to avoid a conflict that could drag in the US.
The president used a letter to the pontiff marking World Peace Day to press her case for a peaceful resolution of Taipei’s dispute with Beijing.
In the letter, which was released on Monday, Tsai expressed her support for the Vatican’s positions on Russia’s war against Ukraine and restated her stance on maintaining stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Photo: Vatican Media / Reuters
“Preserving regional security has become a key consensus shared by national leaders,” Tsai wrote.
“Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are the basis for the development of cross-strait relations,” she said, adding that “armed confrontation is absolutely not an option.”
The Vatican is the only remaining European government to have diplomatic relations with Taipei instead of Beijing.
“Only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy and freedom, can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai said in the letter.
Tensions between the US and China flared in August last year after then-US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in the first such trip in a quarter of a century, prompting Beijing to hold massive drills and fire ballistic missiles over Taiwan.
Her successor, Kevin McCarthy, is planning to make his own trip to Taiwan in the spring, the political news site Punchbowl News reported on Monday.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis called for “patience” in the Vatican’s walk with China, saying that continued dialogue with Beijing was the guiding principle in his efforts to safeguard his flock, who are a small minority in that Asian nation.
The Associated Press, in an exclusive interview on Tuesday with the pope at the Vatican, asked what comes next in the diplomatic overtures between both countries.
“We are taking steps,” Francis replied. “Each case [of a bishop’s nomination] is looked at with a magnifying lens.”
“That’s the main thing, the dialogue doesn’t break,” he added.
As for Chinese authorities, “sometimes they are a little closed, sometimes not,” he said.
The pope sidestepped a question about how the Vatican’s relationship with Taiwan affects the dialogue.
Francis has been criticized by conservative factions of the Catholic Church for a 2018 agreement with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China, given that Chinese authorities have at times imprisoned priests.
Among his harshest critics is Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君), the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong.
In the interview, Francis called Zen, who is 91, a “charming old man,” and a “tender soul.”
He recounted that, when the cardinal visited Rome this month for the funeral of pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the pontiff invited him to the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.
In front of the pope’s private study is a statue depicting Our Lady of Sheshan. Francis said when the cardinal saw it, ”he began to cry, like a child.”
Zen was arrested last year after he fell afoul of Hong Kong authorities over his participation in a now-silenced democracy movement.
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