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Taiwan

Taiwan dismisses reports of strained ties with Vatican

Official says the nation continues to enjoy a warm relationship with the Vatican based on shared values

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 26, 2021 06:18 AM GMT

Updated: October 26, 2021 06:35 AM GMT

Taiwan dismisses reports of strained ties with Vatican

Anti-landing spikes placed along the coast of Taiwan's Kinmen islands, which lie just 3.2 kilometers from the mainland China coast (in background) in the Taiwan Strait. Self-ruled Taiwan has lived under the threat of a Chinese invasion since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949. (Photo: AFP)

A Taiwanese official has said that the nation’s relationship with the Vatican remains friendly through sturdy communication channels as media reports suggested China was pressuring the Vatican to sever ties.

The response on Oct. 25 came a day after Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most circulated newspaper, quoted an unnamed Vatican diplomat who said that Beijing wants the Vatican to break its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in exchange for official ties with China.   

During a media briefing, Joanne Ou, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), didn’t comment on media reports on China’s maneuverings, but she insisted the Taiwan-Vatican relationship remains warm, adding that “communication channels are open and that cooperation with the Holy See continues to deepen based on shared values,” Taiwan News reported.

Ou pointed out that Taiwan has been active in promoting Pope Francis’ encyclicals and blessings during the Covid-19 outbreak, adding that the government joined people and Catholic groups to support the Holy See and assist needy groups to fight the spread of the disease.

Taiwan’s actions have garnered a positive response from the Vatican, she said.

Ou also noted that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was the first head of state to offer good wishes and support to Pope Francis after he underwent surgery in July, with her message listed first among 91 global political leaders on the Holy See’s website. 

MOFA will also continue to deepen exchanges with the Holy See and the Catholic Church based on their long-standing relations and shared values

The spokeswoman also said that Taiwan has confidence in the Vatican’s commitment to the nation as the Holy See has stated on many occasions that the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops deals with religious affairs rather than political matters.

With an aim to unite Catholics fractured between the state-aligned and underground churches in China, the Vatican signed the agreement with China in 2018. The agreement, not yet public, was renewed for another two years in October 2020.

However, observers noted that the deal is a test case for the Vatican’s desire to re-establish formal ties with China that broke down in 1951 following the communist takeover.  

Taiwanese authorities have also expressed hope that the agreement will become a tool to improve the state of religious freedom in China.

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Ou, however, said that Taiwan keeps monitoring religious persecution in China and advocates for religious freedom and the protection of basic human rights in the country.

“MOFA will also continue to deepen exchanges with the Holy See and the Catholic Church based on their long-standing relations and shared values,” she said.

Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, is a sovereign and democratic nation but has never officially declared independence. China still considers Taiwan as one of its provinces and has threatened to annex it militarily.

China’s military pressure has intensified in recent weeks, with Taiwan government officials claiming over 150 Chinese warplanes violated the nation’s air defense zone, sparking condemnation from the US. Political analysts termed the situation the “most grim” in four decades amid rising fear of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

The Vatican is the only European state to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, while the United States is its strongest ally

Taiwan does not have sovereign status at the United Nations, at the behest of China. However, it has diplomatic relations with 14 countries and maintains unofficial and economic relations with some 47 states.

The Vatican is the only European state to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, while the United States is its strongest ally.

About 4 percent of Taiwan’s nearly 24 million population are Christians. Buddhists make up about 35 percent, Taoists 33 percent and non-religious about 19 percent.

According to church sources, the Taiwanese Church today has an estimated 300,000 Catholics in one archdiocese and six dioceses, with a significant number being refugees from mainland China. Migrant Catholics, mostly Vietnamese, Filipinos and Indonesians, are estimated to comprise around 100,000.

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