Francis-Xi meeting unlikely, Catholic scholars say

After China-Taiwan summit, Vatican awaits its turn
Francis-Xi meeting unlikely, Catholic scholars say

Customers eat in a Beijing restaurant on Nov. 7 as a news report about the meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan is shown on a TV behind them. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)

The recent meeting between the presidents of China and Taiwan should not be seen as a model for a possible Pope Francis-Xi Jinping meeting, Taiwanese Catholic scholars said.

Chinese President Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou met in Singapore Nov. 7, marking the first meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan in 66 years.

However, some scholars in Taiwan think that the same diplomatic model is not applicable to China-Vatican relations, even though the two sides met in Beijing in October — the second meeting since talks resumed in June 2014.

"The meeting between Xi and Ma is a political issue while a meeting between Pope Francis and Xi will be a religious one. They are totally different," said Michael Chen, president of Shih Chien University in Taipei.

"The Holy See has to insist on the church's historical tradition. It is hard for either side to compromise and thus, it is quite unlikely that they will meet in the near future," said Chen, who also serves as president of the Taiwan Catholic Mission Foundation.

Noting that both parties are independent states operating under a centralized system without a congress, Chen told ucanews.com, "unless agreed, it is even less likely they would 'bump into each other' in a third country."

Pope Francis and Xi did not cross paths when both visited the United States in September. "It showed that one of the parties did not want [a meeting]," he said.

Bernard Li, former president of Fu Jen Catholic University, said China's desire for unification with Taiwan compels it to "approach Taiwan softly." With the Vatican, there is no compelling need for Beijing to negotiate, he said.

"Beijing has full control of the Catholic Church in China ... The legitimacy for the Vatican to build ties with Communist China is often under question. But there is no such problem with [China-Taiwan] relations. So what would Francis and Xi discuss if they meet?" Li said.

"Bishops' appointments are a practical matter that does not need a meeting of the top leaders to resolve," he added.

Holding a slightly different view, Hsi Hsien-te, a professor of mass communication at Fu Jen Catholic University, believes "anything is possible now" but the final decision rests not with the Holy See, but with Chinese political and religious officials.

Hsi also believes that if a meeting were to take place, it would only be in Beijing, not in a third country. "It may be an appropriate time for there to be a world religious meeting in China," he suggested.

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