China urges Vatican to drop Taiwan ties day after pope elected

Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:23am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes for improved ties with the Roman Catholic Church, it said on Thursday, a day after the election of the new pope, but it stressed the Vatican must take the initiative and end diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

China's 8-12 million Catholics are divided between the Communist Party-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, that has installed bishops without Vatican approval, and an underground church, whose members meet in private, wary of state control.

China severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican shortly after the Communists took power in 1949 and has since demanded that it cut ties with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province.

"We are sincere in wanting to improve relations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, offering congratulations to Pope Francis.

But the Vatican "must stop interfering in China's internal affairs, including in the name of religion", Hua said, adding that the Holy See must end diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

"We hope that the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the new pope, can work hard together with China and create beneficial conditions for improving relations," she said.

Taiwan, for its part, said it believed its religious, academic and cultural partnership with the Vatican would deepen under the new pope.

Hua's comments reasserted China's stance that the Vatican and Pope Francis of Argentina, elected on Wednesday as the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years, would have to make the first move.   Continued...