Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addresses the media on Sept. 22. (Photo: fmprc.gov.cn)
China is poised to renew its agreement with the Vatican on bishops' appointments that has helped the Church grow healthier in the communist country, a Chinese official has claimed.
"Thanks to the joint efforts of both sides, the agreement has been implemented smoothly, and the Catholic cause in China has developed healthier," said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He was responding to a question at a press conference in Beijing on Sept. 22. A reporter from Japan's Kyodo news agency asked if the Vatican's relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) would affect future China-Vatican relations.
Wang responded by reiterating that Taiwan is part of China and should not be considered an independent country.
"First of all, I would like to emphasize that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China's territory, so please use the expression 'Taiwan Region of China,'" he said.
The Vatican and China will continue to maintain close communication and consultation while promoting the process of improving relations, he added.
"There is good communication between China and the Vatican, and the Chinese side is sincere and positive about advancing Sino-Vatican relations and open and welcoming to the two sides to carry out exchanges," Wang said.
The press conference came on the second anniversary of the signing of the pact. It expires in October, two years after being implemented, said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin last week.
History of issues
The pact came after three decades of negotiations and is seen as the first diplomatic document signed by the Vatican and China since 1951 when they severed ties.
The Vatican's relations with China became complicated after the Holy See became the only European state to have ties with the Republic of China in 1942.
The Holy See recognized the Republic of China as the representative of China in 1942 and appointed Archbishop Antonio Riberi as its representative in 1946.
But in 1949, the Republic of China's government moved to Taipei on the island of Taiwan. The Holy See mission remained on the mainland, aiming to continue relations with the communist regime of the People's Republic of China.
However, following political developments, Archbishop Riberi was expelled in 1951. In the following year, the Holy See ended relations with Beijing and resumed ties with the government in Taiwan, considering it as China.
In 1971, Taiwan ceased to be a member of the United Nations. Though the Holy See still recognizes Taiwan, it has no nuncio — Vatican ambassador — in Taipei. Only a chargé d'affaires heads the mission. Taipei, however, maintains an embassy in Rome.
Only 15 countries, including the Vatican, maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Observers say the thawing Vatican-China relations could lead to the Vatican re-establishing its embassy in Beijing, resulting in the Vatican derecognizing Taiwan as an independent nation.
Archbishop Thomas Chung An-zu of Taipei in July said such a development could happen soon if the mainland Chinese government is more open-minded and receptive toward the Church.
Taiwan rules out such a possibility, saying the Vatican-China pact is religious and has no diplomatic connotations.
Taiwan "has continued to receive assurances from the Vatican that the agreement on bishops with China is religious, not about diplomatic relations, and asked us not to worry," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told media last week.
The Vatican continued to downplay the pact's diplomatic fallout, asserting its concern was only to normalize church life in the communist nation.
The Vatican's interest in China "is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the pope," Cardinal Parolin told media on Sept. 14.