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Pope breaks protocol, sends messages to Hong Kong, Taiwan

Messages are expected to upset China at a time when the Vatican aims to improve relations with the communist government

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Pope breaks protocol, sends messages to Hong Kong, Taiwan

Pope Francis waves as he boards his plane to depart Rome on Nov. 19 for a one-week trip to Thailand and Japan. (Photo: AFP)

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Pope Francis has broken protocol by sending messages to leaders of Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of telegrams he sent to other countries his plane traveled near or over on his way to Japan.

He also sent telegraphic messages to leaders of China, Laos and Vietnam as he flew from Bangkok on Nov. 23, ending the first leg of his fourth Asia visit.

His message to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, observers believe, may upset the government in Beijing as Hong Kong is part of the People’s Republic of China.

The telegram went to Lam at a time when pro-democracy street protests entered their sixth month in the semi-autonomous city.

He also used the opportunity to send a message to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but it merely offered “cordial greetings.”

“As I fly over China on my way to Japan. I assure you of my prayers for the nation and its people, invoking upon all of you abundant blessings of peace and joy,” he said to Xi.

Pope Francis made no mention of the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang where over a million Uyghurs are believed to be in custody.

To Lam, a Catholic, he did not, however, mention the street protests: “I extend my best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens. Invoking divine blessings, I pray that almighty God may grant you all well-being and peace.”

In 1999, Beijing blocked St. John Paul II from making a planned visit to Hong Kong on an Asian trip that year due to the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

Pope Francis also sent “cordial greetings” to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who faces an election in January. It assured her of papal “prayers for all the people of Taiwan” and invoked “abundant divine blessings of peace.”

The message could also upset Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that it is determined to bring under its control.

The Vatican is the only European state to give formal diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China (Taiwan).

The pope also offered unremarkable messages to both Laos and Vietnam, communist-run states that are notorious for repressing Catholics.

The reason for Francis’ silence on Beijing’s increasingly repressive moves is believed to be last September’s still-secret deal on synthesizing the appointment of bishops.

The deal reportedly made significant concessions by recognizing bishops appointed by the Communist Party’s self-styled Catholic organizations, some of whom are believed to have wives and children.

Since then, the Vatican and Beijing have been figuring out the next steps, but so far only two of about 30 underground bishops appointed by the Vatican have been recognized by Beijing.

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