Taiwanese opposition prepares for worst on Vatican relations

Some fear China could ask Vatican to sever ties if pro-independence government elected
Taiwanese opposition prepares for worst on Vatican relations

Philip Chen Chien-jen, a Catholic vice presidential candidate in Taiwan, speaks during a TV interview with Taiwanese media on Nov. 18. (Image from SET TV)

ucanews.com reporters, Taipei and Hong Kong
November 20, 2015
A Catholic vice presidential candidate in Taiwan is urging patience over speculation that China could ask the Vatican to cut ties with Taiwan, but his political party may already be preparing for the worst.

Philip Chen Chien-jen was selected as vice presidential candidate for Taiwan's Democratic Progress Party, which polls have favored in January presidential elections. Chen's running mate, presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, is known to favor a more independent stance on China, which has prompted some observers to wonder how an election victory by Tsai and Chen would impact Vatican relations.

According to "Storm," a Taiwanese online news site, the Democratic Progress Party has made an internal evaluation about possible worst-case scenarios, and concluded that the Vatican would likely not sever ties with Taiwan, but could move its nunciature to Beijing as early as February — the month after the Jan. 16 presidential election.

Ucanews.com has been unable to reach party officials for comment. However, in responding to media questions on Vatican relations with China and Taiwan, Chen preached patience.

"The relations between China and the Vatican are quite complicated ... It needs some more discussion before anything can be settled," Chen said Nov. 18 when asked about the possibility of the Vatican severing ties with Taiwan.

Chen recalled he was told by a Vatican foreign affairs official during a prior visit to Rome that "Chinese people have a virtue and that is patience. You have patience. The Vatican also has patience."

Taiwan has found itself stuck in the middle of Vatican and Chinese attempts to establish diplomatic ties. In 1999, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican's secretary of state, told the press that the Vatican is ready to move the nunciature from Taipei to Beijing overnight, if an accord is reached with Beijing.

Severing ties with Taiwan has been a criterion that China demands of the Vatican — the only European state that still maintains diplomatic relations with the island. Though rarely mentioned in recent years, the criterion is often seen as one way that China can further isolate Taiwan internationally.

"China-Vatican relations involve not only one party. The Holy See may not have the intention to harm Taiwan but it is hard to say on China's side," said Bernard Li, founder of Fu Jen Academia Catholica at Fu Jen Catholic University. Li was conferred the Order of Brilliant Star by the Taiwanese government for facilitating relations between Taiwan and the Vatican.

Across the strait, however, a church observer who asked to remain anonymous told ucanews.com the expectation that China will press the Vatican to sever ties with Taiwan, if Tsai comes to power, is a "misreading" of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"If Xi considers people across the strait as brothers, how would he use Vatican relations as a means to constrain Taiwan on the international stage?" the source said, noting that China does not need to play such a card.

During a meeting with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Nov. 7, Xi said: "We are brothers, connected by flesh even if our bones are broken."

Over the years, the source said, "Taiwan has never been a major issue in China-Vatican talks and thus would not be a major obstacle to it."

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