Negotiations to allow the Vatican's famed Sistine Chapel Choir to perform on the mainland have fallen through, and instead it will visit Hong Kong for the first time.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said yesterday that the choir would perform in the city on September 21 after a concert in Macau two days earlier, and then visit Taipei on the 23rd.
The choral group - traditionally made up of around 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers - is one of the oldest church choirs in the world. It normally performs during papal ceremonies, but has toured many parts of the world.
The EDA religious press agency said negotiations had been under way between the Holy See and Beijing for the choir to sing in mainland China "as a diplomatic and cultural gesture" aimed at easing tension. "Obviously they were unsuccessful," it said.
Relations between the Vatican and Beijing have always been strained.
The latter severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 and does not recognise its authority over Catholics on the mainland.
Pope Francis has been working to improve ties with Beijing as he woos Catholics in Asia, and told journalists this month that "the Holy See is always open to contact, because it has genuine esteem for the Chinese people".
Francis sent an unprecedented message to President Xi Jinping as he flew over Chinese airspace to South Korea this month - but it went missing due to an unexplained technical issue.
The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong could not be reached for comment last night. A member of staff at the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity, the main evangelical organisation in the city, said it was unaware of the choir's visit.
In 2008 the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Opera House Choir performed at the Vatican.