Beijing yesterday called for Pope Benedict's successor not to interfere in China's internal affairs, highlighting enduring tensions with the Vatican.
Asked about the pope's decision to step down, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Vatican "should not interfere in China's internal affairs". He said he hoped the next pope would "create conditions for the improvement of bilateral relations", but indicated that Beijing would not allow a thaw without concessions from the Vatican.
China does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and permits worship only in its state-run church, which has 5.7 million members and does not recognise the authority of the pope. Other Chinese Catholics, estimated at three to six million, worship in underground churches loyal to the Vatican.
Hong also called on the Vatican to break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taipei.